Before the first Cruella trailer dropped, you would have been forgiven for questioning whether this particular Disney villain needed an origin story. Cruella De Vil is one of the most cut-and-dry evil characters of cinematic history: she wants to make a luxurious coat out of the skin of dalmatian puppies, surely that's just irredeemable? Well, Disney is giving Cruella her say – and the trailer gives a pretty good argument for why she deserves it.
First off, the obvious: there's no denying Cruella looks like a lot of fun. We see the monstrous character wearing lavish outfits, sporting that iconic two tone hairstyle, and being growled at by dalmatians. Already, Emma Stone's punky '70s version of Cruella is drawing comparisons to Harley Quinn, an anti-hero who's impossible not to love. This promises to be one campy, larger-than-life movie, with Stone at the center having a palpably great time – and all while living her Lady Gaga realness.
This is not the first time Disney has made Cruella a glam fashion icon. The original animated film sees her wearing a lavish fur coat (just don't think too hard on what it's made of) and the live-action remakes, starring Glenn Close as Cruella, likewise saw her styling extravagant outfits. There's been plenty of merchandise featuring Cruella, too: she's a regular in the Disney Villains line, usually accompanied by dalmatian print. Sure, it's hard to admire Cruella the fashionista when she's a would-be puppy murderer, but the movie gives us a chance to see that there's more to Cruella, whose real name we now know to be Estella, than might meet the eye (it's reassuring to know her parents didn't actually name her Cruel the Devil).
We meet Estella while she's a scrappy underdog, proclaiming that she's "not for everyone." There's a "Cruella proving herself in high society" element to the plot as she rails against those who put her down. We can't help but root for her, especially as she exclaims: "I am woman, hear me roar." This is Cruella's time in the spotlight, and we're going to be cheering her on every step of the way – exactly as we did when Harley Quinn blew up the ACE Chemicals plant in Birds of Prey. Yes, it's chaos, but it's of the exciting, colorful kind as she lashes out at someone who hurt her. When the main character is having so much fun, how can we disapprove?
Disney has already excelled at giving us a sympathetic backstory for one of the studio's other iconic villains. Maleficent in the animated Sleeping Beauty movie is quite simply evil – she puts a curse on a baby just because she wasn't invited to a party. But the Maleficent movie, starring Angelina Jolie, took a more nuanced approach to the character, and gave her and Elle Fanning's Aurora (the titular sleepy princess of the original) a touching bond that was far removed from their traditional dynamic of helpless damsel in distress verses all-powerful vengeful fairy. We can probably expect Cruella to do something similar – is there going to be a deeply important reason she needs this dalmatian fur? Well, maybe not, but it's unlikely to be as simple as Cruella wants puppy skins for a coat because she's evil and that's that.
Plus, cinema has changed so much since Glenn Close portrayed Cruella – perhaps a modern take, with our new sensibilities, is exactly what's needed right now?
Cruella De Vil certainly isn't the obvious choice for a sympathetic backstory movie. But when she's having such a blast, dressed to the nines, and giving us a glimpse at the turmoil beneath the exquisitely made-up surface, it's hard to turn down the chance to hear her side of the story. Whatever Cruella serves us, one thing is clear: Emma Stone's going to look amazing doing it.
Cruella arrives May 26, 2021. In the meantime, check out our guide to 2021's movie release dates.