- “Brilliant, bad, and a little bit mad.”
Cruella is an American live-action crime-comedy drama film which was distributed by Walt Disney Pictures and released theatrically on May 28, 2021 with a simultaneous release on Disney+ for an extra fee with Premier Access. Based on the 1961 Disney animated feature film, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, the film serves as the origin story for Cruella De Vil and stars Emma Stone as the titular character. Directed by Craig Gillespie, the film also features Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, and Mark Strong in supporting roles. Stone also serves as an executive producer on the film alongside Glenn Close, who previously portrayed Cruella in the previous live-action adaptations, 101 Dalmatians and 102 Dalmatians.
Cruella, which is set in late 1970s London amidst the punk rock revolution, follows a young grifter named Estella, a clever and creative girl determined to make a name for herself with her designs. She befriends a pair of young thieves who appreciate her appetite for mischief, and together they are able to build a life for themselves on the London streets. One day, Estella's flair for fashion catches the eye of the Baroness von Hellman, a fashion legend who is devastatingly chic and terrifyingly haute, played by two-time Oscar® winner Emma Thompson ("Howards End", "Sense & Sensibility"). But their relationship sets in motion a course of events and revelations that will cause Estella to embrace her wicked side and become the raucous, fashionable, and revenge-bent Cruella.
Born with half-black and half-white hair, Estella was labeled an outcast because of her looks and struggled to fit into the societal norm. Her fashion talent was evident at a young age, though her mother, Catherine Miller, tried to make her work with a pattern as opposed to free-hand. The young Estella refused to accept this course of action. In 1964, she attended primary school where her mother urged her to put aside her bad side, which she had named “Cruella”, and instead, embraced Estella. This didn't last long as Estella refused to be bullied or fit into the crowds. She made one friend, Anita Darling, whose name she admired. The students rebelled against Estella and dropped her into a dumpster. It was here that she met a stray dog whom she adopted and named Buddy.
Estella quickly became a problem child with multiple blemishes on her school record. The rule-breaking reached a point where her mother, to keep Estella's record clean, withdrew her from school despite the headmaster's desire for expulsion. They drove to London where Catherine stopped at a magnificent gala to speak with an old friend, as she required money for the new life she wanted to make with Estella. She covered her daughter's hair and instructed her to stay in the car, though Estella wanted to see the gala for herself. She and Buddy left the car to investigate, though their presence quickly escalated things as they were caught, chased by three Dalmatians, and forced to hide outside. Estella witnessed the three dogs barrel past Baroness Von Hellman and lunge at Catherine, who was pushed off the cliff to her death.
Estella blamed herself for her mother's death and ran away, sought refuge on a garbage truck, and went to the Regent Park fountain, though in the process she lost a valuable necklace her mother gave her. She mourned the death of her mother and awoke the next morning to see two boys at the fountain, the petty criminals Jasper and Horace, and their one-eyed dog Wink. The trio and their dogs were chased from the fountain by the police, though Estella and Buddy tracked the boys and Wink to their haven. The boys introduced themselves to Estella and she revealed that her mother had died, which Jasper sympathized with and urged Horace to remember that feeling. She found a safe place with the boys but knew she had to conform to hide her identity in case the police searched for her. In an attempt to do this, she dyed her hair.
As a full-grown adult, Estella donned a red wig and made a life with Jasper and Horace as successful petty criminals; they pickpocketed strangers on the bus, broke into homes, had cons for hotels where they stole guests' belongings and frequently ran from the police. While she enjoyed her simple life with Jasper and Horace, she secretly longed for a career as a fashion designer at Baroness Von Hellman's prestigious couture company called the House of Baroness. On her birthday, Jasper and Horace surprised her with a cake, albeit it was stolen, and a job acceptance letter to one of the Baroness' many stores. Jasper had pulled a few strings to get her accepted, strings that included breaking in and dropping her resume on the pile. She was elated at the opportunity while Horace thought they used the acceptance as an angle for a con. Estella was sorely disappointed when her job wasn't as a glamorous fashion designer but as an underappreciated janitor. After being reprimanded by her boss over a broken trash bag, Estella drank herself to a stupor and redecorated the shop's window display before she passed out in it. The Baroness made a surprise visit to the store the next morning and noticed the window, along with Estella, Jasper, and Horace who were being arrested by security. She was pleased with Estella's window display and gave her a job.
Estella quickly gained the Baroness' attention for her stunning work and designs. They began to grow close and Estella was ecstatic for the opportunities that came her way. To expand her creativity, Estella befriended a vintage shop owner named Artie. One day, she recognized her mother's necklace around the Baroness' neck. The Baroness spun a tale of a former employee who stole it from her. Estella realized that Catherine had gone to see the Baroness the night of her death, and it was her gala they attended. She enlisted the help of Horace and Jasper in getting back the necklace, though they would need a distraction. Estella knew she couldn't attend the gala without Baroness knowing it was her, so she reverted to her alter-ego Cruella. She donned a red dress and crashed the party while Jasper and Horace tried to steal the necklace. They soon realized that Baroness wore the necklace, so Jasper released rats to distract her while Cruella stole the necklace. In the ruckus, the Baroness used a dog whistle to command her Dalmatians, and Estella realized that the Baroness used the same whistle to direct her dogs to kill Catherine. One of the Dalmatians ate the necklace while Cruella, Horace, and Jasper fled in a stolen Panther de Ville. The following day, Cruella ordered the men to kidnap the three Dalmatians until one of them gave up the necklace, albeit through defecation.
Now with a proper motivation for revenge, Cruella planned to avenge her mother's death by ruining the Baroness's life. She taunted the Baroness by appearing at her lavish gatherings in over-the-top and stylish outfits. She also recruited her childhood friend Anita Darling for help. Anita used her journalistic connections to spread publicity for Cruella. Jasper and Horace began to feel abused by "Cruella", who had begun to verbally berate them and refused to thank them for their aid. The Baroness, growing angered at Cruella, fired her lawyer Roger for his inability to identify Cruella.
However, Estella's schemes grew more daring as she recruited Artie to create more outfits to catch media attention. She, Jasper, Horace, and Artie put on a show in Regent's Park the night of Baroness' big gala. The Baroness pieced together that Cruella was Estella, located her hideout, and captured Jasper and Horace. Baroness attempted to murder her in a fire that would be pinned on Jasper and Horace. Estella was rescued by John, the Baroness's right-hand-man and valet, who heard Estella tell the Baroness of Catherine's murder at the Baroness' hand. He found the necklace as they left the building, and revealed that it was a key to a box that contained Estella's birth records. He revealed that Estella was the Baroness' daughter. The Baroness was narcissistic and angered by her pregnancy as it would shift attention from her. After giving birth, she instructed John to "get rid of" the child. Unable to bring himself to murder the child, John gave the baby to their sweet maid Catherine who raised Estella in secret.
Thrown into a spiral by the revelation, Estella retreated to the fountain at Regent's Park where she made her peace with her adoptive mother. She chose to accept her Cruella side and defeat the Baroness. Estella broke Jasper and Horace out of prison and made up for her actions as Cruella, and admitted that they were her family. The men agreed to help her with one final scheme. She once again partnered with Artie and his team of dressmakers. Horace stole her a new car called a Panther de Ville, and pointed out the similarity to the word "devil" though it was pronounced "de vil". Estella quite liked the name.
They tricked the Baroness' guests into wearing Cruella wigs to confuse the security and enrage the Baroness. They snuck into her party where Cruella adopted her Estella persona for a final time. She lured the Baroness to the cliffs where Catherine was murdered and revealed her identity. The Baroness feigned compassion, though when they embraced, the Baroness pushed Estella over the cliffs to her death. Horace and Jasper had guided the guests outside so the entire debacle was witnessed by police officers, security guards, and guests alike. Meanwhile, Estella survived with a well-trimmed skirt made into a parachute. With Estella's murder, Baroness was arrested and the family's fortune was inherited by Cruella De Vil per Estella's will. Now an heiress, Cruella turned the Hellman Hall into Hell Hall and made herself quite comfortable in the mansion alongside Jasper, Horace, and Artie. She announced that she had quite a few ideas of what to do next.
- Emma Stone as Estella Von Hellman/Estella Miller/Cruella De Vil
- Tipper Seifert-Cleveland as Young Estella (age 12)
- Billie Gadsdon as Young Estella (age 5)
- Emma Thompson as Baroness Von Hellman
- Joel Fry as Jasper Badun
- Ziggy Gardner as Young Jasper
- Paul Walter Hauser as Horace Badun
- Joseph MacDonald as Young Horace
- Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Anita Darling
- Florisa Kamara as Young Anita
- Mark Strong as John the Valet
- Bobby as Buddy
- Gizmo as Puppy Buddy
- Bluebell as Wink
- John McCrea as Artie
- Kayvan Novak as Roger Radcliffe
- Andrew Leung as Jeffrey
- Emily Beecham as Catherine Miller
- Ralph as Puppy Pongo & Perdita
- Jamie Demetriou as Gerald
- Abraham Popoola as George
- Sid Sagar as Mark
- Leo Bill as Headmaster
- Tom Turner as Baron Von Hellman
- John Mackay and Nathan Amzias as House of Baroness Men
- Gianni Calchetti as Ball Guest
- Kate Margo as Liberty Sales Assistant
Glenn Close, Andrew Gunn, Aline Brosh McKenna, and Marc Platt will serve as producers of the film. McKenna was also hired as the writer of the film; in October 2015, she was replaced by Kelly Marcel, who also wrote the screenplay for Saving Mr. Banks.
The film itself is an origin story for the character Cruella De Vil, hence making it a prequel to the 101 Dalmatians story. However, as the film is live action, it's not to be considered canon to 101 Dalmatians.
In January 2016, it was reported that Emma Stone is in negotiations to play Cruella. In April 2016, Disney confirmed that she would indeed play the character. She would also serve as an executive producer.
In December 2016, Alex Timbers was confirmed to direct the film. However, it was announced that Timbers would no longer be directing Cruella due to scheduling conflicts and was replaced by the I, Tonya director Craig Gillespie.
- Main article: Cruella (soundtrack)
On March 31, 2021, it was announced that Nicholas Britell was hired to compose the film's score. The score album was released on May 21, 2021 by Walt Disney Records along with a separate soundtrack album. Both albums feature "Call Me Cruella", an original song performed by Florence and the Machine in the end credits of the film. The soundtrack album also features other songs such as Nina Simone's "Feeling Good", Queen's "Stone Cold Crazy", Blondie's "One Way or Another", the Doors's "Five to One", and the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go". Per the request of Mark Strong, Tina Turner's cover of the iconic Led Zeppelin song "Whole Lotta Love" was included on the soundtrack. Director Craig Gillespie confirmed that the composing track had a total of 48 to 50 songs.
Originally scheduled to be theatrically released on December 23, 2020, Cruella was delayed to May 28, 2021 as filming began. The film is the second live-action remake/spin-off of a Disney animated film to receive a PG-13 rating from the Motion Picture Association, following Mulan, "for some violence and thematic elements". On March 23, 2021, Disney announced that the film would be released simultaneously on Disney+ with Premier Access in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and in theaters. Tickets for the theatrical screenings went on sale on May 14, 2021, with the first screening for critics occurring on the same day, and it was also announced that the film would be screened in Dolby Cinema in select territories.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 74% based on 360 reviews, with an average rating of 6.70/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Cruella can't quite answer the question of why its title character needed an origin story, but this dazzling visual feast is awfully fun to watch whenever its leading ladies lock horns." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 59 out of 100 based on 56 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale, while PostTrak reported 84% of audience members gave it a positive score, with 63% saying they would definitely recommend it.
Writing for Variety, Peter Debruge said: "The director, who brought a wicked edge to pop-culture redux I, Tonya a few years back, has rescued Cruella from the predictability of the earlier 101 Dalmatians remakes and created a stylish new franchise of its own in which a one-time villain has been reborn as the unlikeliest of role models." A. O. Scott of The New York Times called the film "refreshing" within the Disney live-action efforts, while complimenting the film's visual style and storytelling in a Dickensian tale, as well as favorably referring the film as a PG-13 revenge take to Joker. Peter Travers, reviewing the film for ABC News, wrote: "If looks really were everything, Cruella would be flying high on the dazzling costumes that two-time Oscar winner Jenny Beavan has designed for and with two Oscar-winning Emmas-Stone and Thompson-are dressed to wow and deliver much to enjoy in this beautifully crafted fluffball and hits its stride when the two Emmas go on the diva warpath—all in the name of female empowerment." Justin Chang of Los Angeles Times remarked the movie as "dazzling fun" and lauded the performances of Stone and Thompson, of which he described the rivalry of the performances as "hard to resist on-screen", and hailed Beavan's costume design on the film as one of her best works since Mad Max: Fury Road, while drawing parallels of the film's moral ambiguities and Stone's portrayal of the titular character to her previous performance as Abigail Hill in The Favourite.
Alonso Duralde of TheWrap wrote: "Placing these characters in the '60s and '70s allows director Craig Gillespie and screenwriters Dana Fox and Tony McNamara to place the characters into an exciting moment of fashion history... Costumer Jenny Beavan, art director Martin Foley, and production designer Fiona Crombie, and their respective departments, all seem to be enjoying and making the most of the film's period demands." In addition, Duralde also lauded the performances of Stone, Hauser, and Thompson, drawing comparisons of the characterizations of the latter's portrayal of the Baroness to Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada and Reynolds Woodcock in Phantom Thread. Chicago Sun-Times's Richard Roeper rated the film with 3/4 stars, and highlighted Gillespie's direction for being "clever" and "devilishly offbeat" while praising the performances of Stone and Thompson as "appropriately over-the-top and wildly entertaining", drawing its comparisons to the The Devil Wears Prada and also commended the costumes, makeup, and the production values of which he referred to as "spectacular", "dazzling" and a "visual feast", comparing its style to Phantom Thread and noting the similarities of the vibe and tone of the film's soundtrack to Goodfellas, Kingsman: The Secret Service, and Baby Driver.
K. Austin Collins of Rolling Stone rated the film with three out of five stars, similarly praising Stone's performance of the titular character, of which he felt that she embodied it and described her performance as "vampy, stylish, and cruel" while comparing the film’s style of storytelling to I, Tonya, of which he noted a similar internalized victim-like story perspective of Cruella De Vil to Tonya Harding and even pointed out the similar "plausibly two-sided" depiction of Stone's Cruella to Andrea "Andy" Sachs from The Devil Wears Prada, but with a twisted spin. He also commended the supporting performances, particularly Thompson and Hauser and referring the film as "a battle of wits and knits", "entertaining", and "fun". Jamie Jirak from ComicBook.com called the film as "raising the bar when it comes to their [Disney's] live-action catalog", praising the art department, the performances and nostalgic elements. Debopriyaa Dutta from Screen Rant opined that the film told a "masterfully nuanced origin" and praised the performances of Stone and Hauser.
The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday described the film as "tedious, transgressive, chaotic and inert". While praising the performances of Stone, Thompson, Fry, and Hauser, as well as the costumes; she criticized the film, writing, and the runtime of which she found it as "overstuffed", "overlong", and "miserably misanthropic". Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle thought the film was misbegotten and felt that it favors more on style over substance. Though he praised Thompson's performance, the costume design and the soundtrack, he criticized the film's writing as "lazy" and "careless". Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com gave the film 2/4 stars, and said: "There's no denying that Cruella is stylish and kinetic, with a nasty edge that's unusual for a recent Disney live-action feature. But it's also exhausting, disorganized, and frustratingly inert, considering how hard it works to assure you that it's thrilling and cheeky."
In May 2021, both Stone and Thompson stated that they would like to do a second Cruella film in the style of The Godfather Part II, serving as both a sequel and prequel. On June 4, 2021, Disney announced that a sequel is officially in the early stages of development, with Gillespie and McNamara expected to return as director and writer respectively.
- Cruella is the second Disney live-action adaptation to feature the perspective of the villain, after 2014's Maleficent.
- Glenn Close, one of the executive producers of the film, played the character of Cruella in the 1996 live-action adaptation of 101 Dalmatians and its 2000 sequel.
- This is the fourth time that Craig Gillespie has directed a Disney film, after Fright Night (which is distributed under the Touchstone Pictures banner), Million Dollar Arm, and The Finest Hours.
- This is the fifth time that Emma Thompson has done a role for a Disney film, after playing Captain Amelia in Treasure Planet, Queen Elinor in Brave, P. L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks, and Mrs. Potts in the 2017 live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast.
- This is the second time that Mark Strong has portrayed a role for a Disney film, after playing Matai Shang in John Carter.
- This is the second time that Gizmo has portrayed a role for a Disney film, after playing Froufrou in Beauty and the Beast.
- Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, Julianne Moore, and Demi Moore were considered for a role.
- Prior to the announcement of the film's new simultaneous release, Kirby Howell-Baptiste was slated to be portraying a character named "Tabitha" while Emily Beecham was stated to be playing Anita. Shortly afterwards, their proper characters were listed. Additionally, Mark Strong's character was named "Boris" before revealing it as John. The reason for the initial misnaming is unknown.
- Following the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the first live-action Walt Disney Pictures film to have a theatrical release since Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.
- This is the second live-action adaptation of a Disney Animated Canon film to be rated PG-13 by the MPA, after Mulan.
- This is the first 101 Dalmatians film to be rated PG-13 by the MPA, unlike the other films, which were rated G, making it the second Disney franchise in which neither animated nor live-action film receives a PG rating after Mulan.
- This is the twelfth Disney film to be rated PG-13, and the seventh outside the Pirates of the Caribbean films overall, after Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, John Carter, The Lone Ranger, Saving Mr. Banks, The Finest Hours and Mulan.
- This is also the fifth non-Jerry Bruckheimer Disney film to be rated PG-13, after John Carter, Saving Mr. Banks, The Finest Hours, and Mulan.
- This is the third Disney film to be released on Disney+ as a Premiere Access title, after Mulan and Raya and the Last Dragon.
- Thus, it is also the second Disney film to be released in theaters and on Disney+ on the same day after Raya and the Last Dragon.
- In preparation for the film, Disney released exclusive fashion items that were available for purchase at shop Disney and Hot Topic.
- Cruella is the first live-action villain origin story to feature an LGBT character, and the second live-action story overall, following in the footsteps of the 2017 film Beauty and the Beast. The character of "Artie" identifies as gay, though his plot within the film stretches beyond his sexuality, which is a first for the franchises. In the first script, Artie was written as a drag Queen before the idea was scrapped and he became the owner of a vintage clothing shop.
- Cruella was released on what would have been Cameron Boyce's 22nd birthday. The late actor was best known for playing Carlos De Vil, the son of Cruella De Vil, in the Disney Channel Descendants trilogy.
- The iconic home of Cruella de Vil makes an appearance when she renames Hellman Hall to Hell Hall by removing the word "man" from the sign on the gate in front of the house.
- The infamous Dalmatians Pongo and Perdita made a guest appearance in a post credits scene, where Cruella gifted the dogs to Anita Darling and Roger Radcliffe.
- Disney partnered with its television subsidiary Freeform to promote Cruella. Freeform's fashion series The Bold Type had its three stars don fashion inspired by the film in a photoshoot. The series also created an in-universe magazine cover.
- In the movie, Cruella was born with half-black and half-white hair. In real life, there is a similar condition called poliosis which can cause single or, less commonly, multiple white patches on the hair due to the lack of melanin.
Easter eggs and homages
- The car Cruella steals after her heist is a Panther De Ville, the same type of vehicle Glenn Close used in 101 Dalmatians (1996) and 102 Dalmatians, which was first introduced in 1974. Horace steals a black and white version later, pointing out the name of the car, which inspires Cruella's new surname.
- Horace notices that some dog owners look like their dogs while Cruella is meeting with Anita, an homage to the moment when Pongo first spotted Anita in the animated film.
- Estella often talks with her mother at a fountain in Regents Park, a real park in London that was the setting for Roger and Anita's first meeting in the animated classic.
- When Roger is introduced as a lawyer for the Baroness, she mentions that he mostly plays his piano all day, a nod to his profession in 101 Dalmatians. During the mid-credit tag, he sits at a piano and starts singing "Cruella De Vil".
- His apartment is almost similar to the one seen during the opening of the animated film.
- When Estrella is pretending to be a maid, a movie is playing called Lifeboat starring Tallulah Bankhead, whose mannerisms inspired Cruella de Vil's portrayal in the Disney animated film. A closeup features the actress' signature laugh, which sounds similar to Cruella de Vil's.
- In one scene, the Baroness is watching a film starring Betty Lou Gerson, the original Cruella from the classic 1961 animated film.
- Artie says "If you can dream it, I can dress it" when he first meets Estella, a play on the Disney phrase "If you can dream it, you can do it", written by Tom Fitzgerald originally for the EPCOT attraction Horizons.
- Cruella mentioned turning the Baroness Von Hellman's dogs into coats, which references Cruella's signature scheme of trying to turn Dalmatians' fur into coats.
- The iconic Disney princess Cinderella was mentioned when Estella's boss reprimanded her actions while she cleaned.
- The wigs that Cruella gave the guests at the Baroness's ball are the same hairstyle that was worn by Glenn Close in the live-action remake of 101 Dalmatians.
- Baroness Von Hellman owns a fashion house called the House of Baroness, which may be a reference to Cruella's fashion house, House of DeVil.
- "Box Office: ‘Cruella’ Nabs Non-Fabulous $7.7 Million Friday", Forbes (May 29, 2021).
- "In a Punk ‘Cruella,' Dogs Play Second Fiddle to the Designs", NBC News (May 28, 2021).
- "How Much Did Cruella Cost To Make?", Screen Rant (May 28, 2021).
- "Cruella (2021)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb.
- Cruella (2021). The Numbers. Nash Information Services, LLC. Retrieved June 4, 2021.
- Debruge, Peter (May 26, 2021). "‘Cruella’ Review: Emma Stone Reimagines the ‘101 Dalmatians’ de-Villainess as an Iconic Underdog".
- "‘Cruella’ Review: A Disney Villain Gets a Backstory. It’s Spotty.", The New York Times, A. O. Scott (May 26, 2021).
- "'Cruella' review: Emma Stone and Emma Thompson deliver much to enjoy in this beautifully crafted fluffball", ABC News (May 28, 2021).
- Justin Chang (May 26, 2021). "Review: ‘Cruella’ is dazzling fun but shows too much sympathy for the de Vil".
- Duralde, Alonso (May 26, 2021). "'Cruella' Film Review: Emma Stone Generates Sympathy for the de Vil". TheWrap.
- Roeper, Richard (May 26, 2021). "Eye-popping ‘Cruella’ dazzles with spectacular outfits and offbeat origin story".
- "A Battle of Wits and Knits: Despite Its Intentions, ‘Cruella’ Proves Why the Baddies Are More Fun". Rolling Stone (May 26, 2021).
- Jirak, Jamie (May 26, 2021). "Cruella Review: Emma Stone Slays in Wickedly Stylish Prequel". ComicBook.com.
- Dutta, Debopriyaa (May 26, 2021). "Cruella Review: Emma Stone Is The Beating Heart Of Masterfully Nuanced Origin". Screen Rant.
- "Disney’s ‘Cruella’ manages to be tedious, transgressive, chaotic and inert, all at the same time", The Washington Post, Ann Hornaday (May 26, 2021).
- LaSalle, Mick (May 26, 2021). "Review: Emma Thompson wipes Emma Stone off the screen in misbegotten ‘Cruella’".
- Zoller Seitz, Matt (May 26, 2021). "Cruella movie review & film summary". RogerEbert.com.