Emma Stone brings the unhinged and chic Disney villain Cruella de Vil to life in the origin story Cruella (streaming on Disney+ with Premier Access on May 28) but it’s the wicked pairing with Emma Thompson as Baroness von Hellman that makes the new movie obsessively alluring.
“I think it’s definitely dark for a Disney movie,” Stone said at a press conference for the film. “It was darker than I’ve seen a Disney movie for a good long time.”
Cruella takes place in 1970s London, which already sets an inherently cool and fashionable world for this notorious villain to emerge, with an absolutely killer soundtrack. Cruella's real name is Estella but is given the moniker as the name for her cruel side or alter ego (think Sasha Fierce to Beyonce, but meaner). After the sudden passing of her mother, Estella finds herself living a life of crime, including pickpocketing and con jobs on the streets of London, with her two friends Horace ( Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (Joel Fry).
Estella has an eye for fashion, creating impressive costumes for the three friends to wear to disguise themselves. She ends up landing an unglamorous job cleaning the bathroom at the iconic department store Liberty of London but one day, she catches the eye of the iconic fashion designer, the Baroness, and ends up joining the team that designs her clothes. A massive revelation about who the Baroness is leads the two to fight for attention and praise in the press, and among fashion elite.
Thompson’s portrayal of the Baroness definitely has some Miranda Priestly vibes (Meryl Streep's character in The Devil Wears Prada). For much of the film, it’s a battle between who is more wicked, the Baroness or Cruella.
“I am very interested in the dark side of a female character because they’re so rarely allowed to be dark,” Thompson said. “We’re all supposed to [be] nice and good aren’t we, and bad mothers are simply unforgivable.”
“[The Baroness] says, ‘if I hadn’t been single-minded, I might have had to put my genius at the back of the drawer’ like so many other women of genius,...and actually, it is a very good point.”
Director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya) revealed that he believes villains are “so fun to portray” because there are more opportunities to push boundary and create larger than life characters that “aren’t quite appropriate."
Stone also revealed that she would never be able to play a character if she truly thought they were just evil, because humans being are far more more complex and layered.
'The underwear was a big ordeal'
Fashion plays such a huge role in Cruella with a number of incredibly impressive costumes created for the cast, particularly Cruella and the Baroness, but Thompson lifted the curtain on the seemingly glamorous fashions.
“The underwear was a big ordeal, not for Stone, obviously, because she’s slender as a lily and didn’t need to wear a corset,” Thompson said. “If you have flesh,...what they used to do in the olden days is you take the flesh, and like me, you squeeze it in the middle, it moves up and down like toothpaste in a tube.”
“It’s not fantastically comfortable at the centre of the toothpaste tube, but our wonderful tailors and designers,...have such a good time just pulling in the corset tightly enough so that bits of me would squish out of the top of the costume, and then they’d push a bit back again and squish it back down, and then pull in again.”
Cruella costume designer Jenny Beavan revealed that knowing where the title character ends up later in life, with Glenn Close’s portal of Cruella in the 1996 film 101 Dalmatians, was in her mind, while getting inspiration from Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, among other fashion icons.
“In my mind, it had to just be possible that this character could become that character,” Beavan said.
The verdict on Cruella
It's not a secret that live-action remakes and origin stories can be a hard sell but the energy of Cruella is just intoxicating, between the incredibly intricate sets, stunning costumes and villainous leads. It's fair to call this Disney's best live-action reimagining of a classic tale to date.
Cruella provides enough clues to connect you to the 101 Dalmatians story, with the iconic "Cruella de Vil" song playing at the end of the film, but this movie provides a new context for the character that pushes the story forward, while looking back, and it can truly stand on its own.