This post contains spoilers for Disney's Cruella.
🎶At first you think Cruella is the devil... but after time has worn away the shock...🎶
Cruella De Vil is one of my most despised Disney villains. Lady straight up kills and skins puppies to make coats. What's more villainous than that within the Disney canon? Suffice to say, I was hugely skeptical of this new film and how it was going to try and humanize a woman who did such deplorable things. Really, the answer was right in front of all of our faces, because there's really only one solution:
This version of Cruella doesn't kill dogs.
Now, Cruella certainly isn't the first Disney film used to explain the motivations of their villains. But, unlike Malificent, Cruella doesn't simply justify the behaviors of its protagonist. Instead, it completely retcons. When we first meet young Estella, she picks up a stray dog to be her best friend. Immediately, you feel a knot tighten in your stomach as you wonder what terrible fate this poor pup will meet. But then it never comes. Instead, we see Cruella (expertly portrayed by Emma Stone) laugh her way through the film at the idea of someone doing so deplorable as killing a dog. This leads us to rationalize further. "Ok, so she's on the right team now, but what's going to make her snap?"
The answer, dear reader, seems to be nothing. In fact, Cruella's mid-credit stinger shows the fashionista gifting Roger (Kayvan Novak) and Anita (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) Pongo and Perdita. If her downfall is to come, it seems several years off from the woman — who in 101 Dalmatians doesn't meet Roger until after he marries her schoolfriend Anita — who barges in and demands to purchase 101 puppies for her coats.
All of this takes us back to the thesis question. Is this new retcon of Cruella De Vil a villain? I don't really think so. She's mean, sure. And she certainly needs to learn how to treat her best friends better. (Something kinda-not-really solved by the end of the film.) But a villain? Nah. What we seem to be left with is a strange new anti-hero if anything. Moreover, it's a new anti-hero that I want to see more of. Will her full spiral into puppy killing maniac occur? Will she still barge into Roger and Anita's flat years from now demanding all of their puppies? Both are possible! What seems more likely is that this new version of the story shows her leaning into the "puppy killer" moniker to add to her image, but we really don't know yet! For Disney, that "not knowing yet" is pretty exciting.
Cruella is in theaters and Disney Premier Access now.
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