The storytelling community has turned its page into revisionist history more than ever before. Directors and screenwriters have made it their mission to take popular stories and give them a new twist, dimension, and perspective. In recent years, Maleficent, Venom and even Harley Quinn develops extra humanizing layers in the most recent renditions of each of their stories. However, if there is one villain that gets this seemingly undeserved treatment, it is the crazy-woman-driver, coveter of spots and lover of furs, Cruella de Vil. In the new Disney movie, Cruella, audiences receive the unexpected backstory of de Vil.
The movie is intended as a prequel to the live-action 1996 rendition, which was directed by Stephen Herek and starred Glenn Close as de Vil. Herek took a few creative liberties for his version to bring it out of the cartoon world into reality. He made Cruella de Vil the shrewd head of a fashion designing company where Anita is one of her employees.
This is something Craig Gillespie, the director of this most recent rendition, carried over. He gives the character a love for fashion from a young age, setting up a major plotline element. While Anita is not working with Cruella in this backstory, they were introduced as primary school classmates, which is a call back to their relationship mentioned by Roger in the original 1961 version. Anita is then brought back as a minor character throughout the newest movie.
Anita isn’t the only familiar character showed to us in this backstory. Roger, Anita’s husband in the main story, is the antagonist’s lawyer. Jasper and Horace are introduced to Cruella when all three of them are young children, and a fast friendship forms. We also get some new characters introduced, including a charming second-hand fashion store owner named Artie.
Whether a name was familiar to our ears or not, none of the characters were the same as they had been in previous renditions. There are still some core attributes attached to some of the characters: Anita is still cordial and collected; and Jasper is still polite and attempts to be charming, in reference to the 1996 rendition. These characters have been given new life, whereas before they seemed canned and flat. However, in this backstory, they are dimensional, with wants, expectations and desires.
Emma Stone’s portrayal humanizes the criminally minded character. It’s almost as if she is playing a completely different Cruella. The Cruella from the 1996 version was either calm or erratic, and in the original animated movie she was constantly both overbearing and threatening. In her new incarnation, it is hard to believe that she now descends so far into madness that she looks forward to someone skinning puppies. While she has a reason for revenge in this new prologue, it is much more deeply rooted than something that seemed more like a child stomping their foot.
Along with new character visions, the costumes are off the charts in quality and quantity. Jenny Beavan, Cruella’s costume designer, set Emma Stone up in 47 costume changes. Emma Thompson, who played the movie’s antagonist (Baroness), was set up in 33 costume changes. Every wardrobe choice had painstaking detail, from a classic black jumpsuit to a dress with a skirt that had over 5,000 petals affixed to it.
One of the central themes to this movie is family, whether by blood or by choice. At a young age, Cruella is left an orphan. When she finds fellow orphans Horace and Jasper, they form a bond and become a family. Throughout the movie, Cruella discovers hard truths about her past and current realities, which force her to make many decisions that have to be made in this reality as well. She must ask herself questions like, “Who can I trust?” and “What does family even mean?”
Overall, this movie was a spectacle for the dopamine receptors. It is fresh, with beautiful cinematography, exciting characters and stunning design and execution.