September 16, 2021
She’s cruel. She’s a devil. If she doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will. She’s ruthless. She’s a menace. She’s… likeable? Cruella de Vil has been hailed as a puppy-killing – but fashionable – villain since the 1950s. Now it seems that this infamous character has taken the path of many re-told Disney villain stories and become more of a quasi-relatable antihero.
The Cruella seen in the 2021 film is vastly different from the original in Dodie Smith’s The Hundred and One Dalmatians in 1956. Smith painted Cruella as a married socialite who was incredibly spoiled and even had a pet cat. Though later versions diverge from this original portrayal, her taste for fur coats has always been present to some degree. The next version of the cruel devil came about in the early 1960s. Animator Marc Davis brought to life the crazed, wiry-haired terror who was always shrouded in green smoke.
The next Cruella made her grand entrance with Glenn Close’s 1996 version of the voguish, successful, and humorous icon. This was the first time an audience experienced a Cruella that was not just evil, but entertaining. This portrayal of a likable and witty “villain” was the first step in the direction of a relatable (or at least understandable) Cruella. She is someone we hate to love and love to hate; we like her because we aren’t supposed to. This concept of Cruella is exactly what is shown in the newest movie.
If you have not seen “Cruella” (2021), this is your official “spoiler warning”. Emma Stone’s Cruella is young. She’s driven, filled with revenge, and as the movie itself emphasizes so many times, a genius. Her tragic past combined with her current struggles and wasted talent create a feeling of sympathy for her. It is easy to root for her and want her to win her personal battle against The Baroness. That is not to say there are an abundance of redeeming qualities, agreeableness, or justification for some of her actions, but it still helps to understand her as a person.
She is originally shown as a young girl named Estella with a knack for getting in trouble. Her problematic tendencies are attributed to what seems to be an alter ego. In the end, it turns out that Estella was the true alter ego in order to hide Cruella from the world. There is something to be said about the psychological stability of Cruella, but that would need an entirely separate blog.
The majority of negative audience reviews revolved around the portrayal of Cruella as someone whose horrible actions are somehow okay simply because there is an explanation of her motivation. The negative opinions focused on Cruella being humanized, villains being redeemed even without any redeeming qualities, and the harm of presenting Cruella as a role model. However, Cruella was never intended to be morally complex. She objectively does bad things. She was never intended to be a good role model. That would defy the whole essence of her being. By inviting viewers into her mind, it helps to understand her, not support her. This movie shows that evil may still be plain evil, but things are not always so black and white (pun intended) as they may seem.
A takeaway from this newfound depth is to not form preconceived notions or a personal bias on someone or something based solely on the one popular narrative. Since the first incarnation of this character, she has been a puppy-killer, a wicked woman, an uncaring and cold-hearted villain. With other versions, particularly 2021’s first-person account, it is shown that there is more to every story. Learning more about a person’s story can have eye-opening realizations to their personal desires, goals, and motivators.
A huge theme to acknowledge in this film is the idea of nature vs. nurture. Estella was raised by a caring mother who always tried to “love her into shape” as Cruella herself states it. Try as she might, Estella could never quite tame those wild inclinations. Near the end of the movie, it is revealed that the stone-cold, heartless Baroness is the real birth mother of Cruella. The strong-willed ambition of The Baroness is evident in Cruella, and the cutthroat ruthlessness peaks out at times, but ultimately Estella makes a sacrifice to be with her mother, leaving Cruella her rightfully earned riches and top spot in the fashion world. However, she decides to ultimately spare the life of The Baroness, which is notably opposite the decision of the Baroness concerning Estella’s adoptive mother all those years ago.
Our protagonist’s final visit to the fountain to speak with the mother who raised her completes the life of Estella. Cruella steps into her full, extravagant personality, leaving the behaved Estella behind, but never forgetting the love and guidance that shaped her into the successful woman she became.
So, do we become who we are destined to be based on our DNA and genetic make-up? Or do we make our choices based on the environments that raised us? Come watch “Cruella” on Friday, September 24 on the Commons Lawn and decide for yourself.
Written by: Anna Pender
Anna is a Senior Strategic Communications major. She is thankful to have the opportunity to write for the blog because it gives her a chance to explore and write about topics and events that she is passionate about and that are relevant to the world. She loves getting to be creative and share her personality through writing.