Fashion in films has a long and illustrious history. From the celebration of it with cinema such as La Dolce Vita and Breakfast at Tiffany’s to the scathing indictment of it like Prêt-à-Porter and Clueless, we as the audience are marveled at what can elevate an already visual medium to an artform, notwithstanding cinematography.
This is especially evident in villains portrayed on the silver screen. People root for the hero, but everybody loves a well-dressed, ne’er do well. It’s as if their outer bombastic beauty belies their inner workings on purpose, almost taunting you to find the good in them. I mean, who are you going to believe? A sinner with some shiny shoes or a saint wearing the boxes that they came in? It is in this very vanity that Disney’s Cruella dares to defy, like all good fashion. In this article, we’ll learn why the De Vil doesn’t wear Prada, but rather cuts that shit up and fucking sews it into Diet Alexander McQueen.
Cruella starts out like much Disney fanfare does: at the beginning. Sort of. We’re introduced to not only Emma Stone‘s English accent but also the trope of many a movie that seems to want to portray a playful profundity (ie. pretentious): voice-over. Now, this is catnip to most audiences. I don’t begrudge you for that. It’s a cool technique and if done well doesn’t actually seem belabored. In this instance, I could see it coming from a mile away, but I wanted to see this, so I let this one slide. I digress.
We see a double-sided Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) as a problem child in school. The natural inheritance of odd hair only lent to embracing her out-of-the-box thinking… being out of the box socially. The poor girl was tormented by boys but also was able to roll with the punches and give it back. This wasn’t someone to sympathize with but rather someone to cheer for. She had a rhyme to her reason and that rhyme landed her quite some time in the Headmaster’s office. Her good side kept her showing her fashionable side she’d wear to school, deconstructing and reconstructing garments. Her bad side, nicknamed Cruella, she’d wear as a badge of honor and ultimately landing the respect of a one Anita Darling (Florisa Kamara) and after being launched into a rubbish bin, she met her true friend.. a dog she monikered Buddy. Hey, for her is almost like a Selina Kyle in Batman Returns with the punk aesthetic, she deserves a little leeway in naming a dog.
She has more marks on her record than a battle DJ, so her mother, Catherine (Emily Beecham) decides to pull her out before the Headmaster can kick her to the curb in order to keep her record clean. Hey, ya can’t kick a ghost? Or can you? More on that later.
Armed with nothing but their paltry luggage and Estella’s Buddy, they are London-bound. There is no room for them to flourish here. There is just one last stop her mum needs to make to secure their future for a little bit. The road is dark but there is a light at the end of it… in the form of a palatial mansion. Estella immediately recognizes this as a gala and though instructed to stay in the car as mum conducts business, this is Estella we’re talking about.
They crash the ball and a lot in it, as John the Valet (Mark Strong) notices and attempts to escort her out before ruining all of the walkways of the Baronesses line, but both are able to evade. (V.O.) And I thought it was going all so well.
The three Dalmations are released, forcing both Estella and Buddy into the back garden. It is there she sees Catherine trying to bargain with a Lady whom we cannot see clearly. The trio of dogs leap and push her mother to her death o’er the water cliffs. It’s not over for Estella though, as she has to mask her cries and her whereabouts, opting to run for dear life with Buddy, both jumping and landing in a garbage truck that will travel miles until they wake up.
She ends up in Regent Park, only to find two street urchins, Horace (Ziggy Gardner) and Jasper (Joseph MacDonald) with their canine Wink. After a slight evasion with the law, which seemed like a one-shot, as cute as it was, they arrive at their hideout all three. Estella relays her story and Horace takes pity on her, reminding Jasper of his own upbringing. They agree to have her as a resident dodger, so she dyes her hair.
It’s a new day, it’s a new dawn. By the way, I’ll get back to the songs and why they play a huge part if not a character in this movie in a while… but for the time being, we go from children to adults in their profession. If you’ve ever seen Skrillex’s “Bangarang” video, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
We have Estella (Stone) and an adult Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (Joel Fry) grifting and doing it with the clean lines only matched by a Russian Ballet. This includes just being elaborate to be a step or second ahead of everyone.
Estella is fine scrapping by, but she wants more. Her cohorts are well aware of this so for her birthday, they get her a job at the most famous fashion store, Liberty of London, one that she admires, and they realize she has more talent than shan’t be wasted. It’s that type of fucking family you can’t pay for. So she takes it. Especially since it is one of the Baroness stores.
Though her job, like all we can relate to starting from the bottom and in an actual cool one take (though not really, more like Wes Anderson if it were through the lens of Spike Jonze) of an entire building, they show you where she starts- at the bottom, in the dungeon of the bathrooms. Girl pays her dues, albeit wanting for something more and wanting to improve on patterns or stitching.
Her higher up, and snobbish, higher gentry gentleman (if you can even call him that), erm, manager, basically berates her and ignores her. Which is higher? Hmm, left up to debate. Either way, she’s an artist seeing an improvement in something, and her hands her tied… until one day, she eventually one day, all good villains have a bad day.
Estella ends up getting pissed before getting pissed with his good whiskey and thinks it’s time for a redesign. Now, I’m no expert, but though she’s fired waking up with a bottle in her hand at the immaculate display, that would not have you hired from the actual person you admire. Drinking on the job is never good. I should know!
Either way, Estella walks away with a punk presence that is Disney’s equivalent to giving the middle finger… because ironically, you can get drunk on screen, but you can’t show a middle finger, even sober. Ohh, but this movie is PG-13, so she’s such a badass! Trust me, I’d do that for free and film it for free, so long as you don’t spell my name wrong.
So now she has a new gig for the Baroness (Emma Thompson). She’s now a designer. I do like how they have everybody in the white coats they are supposed to have for a House. This is an art and a science. Things are precise. Would you just trust anyone with your soutre? No! Then don’t trust just anybody with your goddamned gown! The same thing has been exemplified with great gusto in P.T. Anderson’s Phantom Thread.
Having gained the eye or ire of the Baroness, Estella is now the Baroness’ right-hand woman… in that, she pulls double duty as a gofer and designer since her temerity cannot rely on the timid attempts of Roger (Kayvan Novak) to serve her noxious needs.
In order to itch this red scratch (which Baroness gives her), Estella seeks out the help of one of the most audacious boutiques in all of London, manned by Artie (John McCrea). This guy is the creme de la creme and is not only happy to accommodate Estella in her pursuits but is also impressed by her knowledge of fashion and lines. They become linked from day one and it’s for my money one of the coolest people in the LBGTQ community to not be a stereotype but rather someone that is open and free. Shouldn’t we all fucking be like that?
This is where things we call for things to take a turn for the worse, as fetching her meal, Estella notices a necklace that her mother had told her to hang on to adorning her mentor’s neck. Now the Baroness told some story about how it was stolen, but at some point, the cogs in the mind just clog and others begin to spin. CUE: Quincy Jones’ “Ironside.”
She gathers both Horace and Jasper to formulate an almost Oceans Eleven grift, but they are not. Because they are thre- Anyway…
They go on the fact that Estella can’t go as herself, so she goes as her rebel side, Cruella. With her cronies in tow, they attempt to take back the necklace with disastrous results, albeit with something reminiscent of a lot Disney films. This includes Hocus Pocus- this is the introduction to audiences of the villain. Cruella makes a grande dame entrance because it would grant time for both Horace and Jasper to do what they do best, which in this case is losing time and losing to better security.
These hijinks are silly and kind of a nod to how they are, not fuck ups… but loveable fuck ups. The movie doesn’t make them dumb in any way. They make one empathic and one sympathetic. It’s a nice tone. It also underlines the fact that Cruella has a memorable experience for both guests and the audience. The fact a party ensues in chaos is what we love. It’s big-budget and it’s fun for the audiences. It gives them their money’s worth. For me, it was a ruse, which, is what the scene was about.
In this chaos, we realized it was Baroness that used a dog whistle that commanded the Dalmations to attack, and in that fray, one of the doggo’s swallowed the necklace, and while they all flee in a Panther de Ville, another nod as if Disney wasn’t trying to give up the ghost. So Cruella commands, like her mother, her dogs, Horace and Jasper to capture those dogs.
Now, pause. I thought with this, she wanted to fucking kill all of those dogs, gut one of them, find the necklace, and become the one and true villain. No, she doesn’t. She simply wants them to capture them and have one shit it out. This is reminiscent of Gone In 60 Seconds (the Nick Cage one.)
She’s simply smarter. I mean, you could go with her being a true villain, but having two villains makes a hero not. So she enlists now journalist Anita (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) to spread the word that she’s simply more fashionable and will tear the House down. It’s a clever thing now that I think about it. The pen is mightier than the sword.
It is within this campaign that begins to outdo the Baroness at her own game. She goes on publicity stunts, crashing her whole shit like the Sex Pistols did with the Queen Mum. She begins to wear her ego down. The old guard is old. It is ugly in more ways than one. The new guard is at the vanguard and there is nothing worse than erasing someone from the fucking books.
This does come at a price, though, seeing as though Horace and Jasper are now her ‘dogs’. It really matters none to her. She breaks.
There is beauty in the breakdown… or at least fashion. The more she grows bold, the more the Baroness can’t hold up. Maybe it is time to hang it up. Cruella’s been able to get through the eras of fashion. She isn’t. This is a changing of the guard, even if you have to mentally shoot them in the soul.
This comes to a head when Cruella finds a way to truly get her mentor’s goat. She throws a concert outside of her fashion show, with Artie singing “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by Iggy and the Stooges, which wins over the younger crowd in spades in a God Save the Queen Sex Pistols live following the Queen on a boat fashion. She also wears a coat that looks like it’s made of Dalmations.
Baroness, knowing who Cruella truly is Estella attempts to kill her. Burn her home to the ground. Make it seem like her cohorts killing her whilst saving her own legacy to make the brand back. The old guard’s been burned though. The last is Strong… Mark Strong, as he rescues Estella from the fire.
Turns out, he knew the whole story behind it. He reveals all and blows Estella’s mind, as she finds out that she’s the daughter of the Baroness.
When the dude found the necklace at the fire, he pieced together that she was Estella, and that the necklace contained a hidden key, it was to a hidden box.
That box contained the birth records of Estella, which turned out a little, well, fucked up, as it turns out the Baroness is her mother. Matricide at its best!
Finding out that she was preggo with Estella, being the narcissist as she was, she wanted the baby “by any means necessary” by John, which he couldn’t do… so he gave her to the Maid (Beecham), and with that mind blown Cruella goes back to her mother to tell the whole story… but not before doing one last bad/good dead.
She breaks out her fucking cohorts with a nice, big hulking truck, sending out Wink to do the small work.
Oh, that isn’t a bad thing. She’s doing a public service.
Oh, speaking of public service… this is where we conclude. The denouement.
Now, this is Cruella and she’s already tapped well into the devious side, so much, she cannot get out, but when you look like that, why would you go to just plain? Oh, no.
She’s planned a party to one of the Baroness’ biggest parties and sent her fake invitations out. Almost like a project Mayhem only in a kiddie form. Almost like a V for Vendetta, but for toddlers. It’s still fucking cool.
She tricks the fucking guests into a Memorial for Cruella Ball from the Baroness, which fucks the hostess up mentally… and as the guard is all locked up, so are the eventual eyes on the guests with the confrontation of Estella and her mother.
This ends in re-attempted murder and the death of one identity and the beginning of another. It’s clever. I’ll give them that.
Overall, I give this movie a B. Not a solid B, but it was entertaining for a few reasons. It went on the 1996 angle with Glen Close, which was amazing, though not critically loved, but what punk rock thing is?
They also give Anita and Roger a thing to work with at the end.
The actors Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Paul Walter Hauser, and Joel Fry were all fucking on point. They gave this script life. They made it magical. Emma squared is a dream. Paul Walter Hauser only is on the rise since the first time I watched him on Always Sunny then to Richard Jewel then to the BlackKklansman, a joy to watch, and Joel Fry with his amazing work on Game of Thrones or Plebs… these are people that are right at home with each other. The conjoining makes me joyous.
Now onto the soundtrack. I initially had a little bit of a nitpicking thing about this, because they utilize naught less than 30 popular songs. They were pretty fair and popular songs for their time, but I have to give it up to them, they used them right. It’s not Tarantino, but he goes for the obscure shit as well.
Think of this as Tarantino for kids which may be the benchmark for all films based on soundtracks these days. From the Zombies to David Bowie, from Nina Simone to the Doors, from Doris Day to Ken Dodd, this soundtrack had it all. It at times felt forced, but it was period-specific. I won’t exactly knock it. The shit flowed well with scenes, if not a little bit eye-rolling… but you whet the whistles of the parents as well.
Lastly, the wardrobes. They were amazing. The main reason I wanted to see this movie was more for fashion. It didn’t disappoint. Though, when I first said Diet Alexander McQueen, I did mean it. There was a cutesy aspect to the wardrobe and they definitely did their math, but it was just a hair off of what would have been done for dramatic effect. I get it though. You have to make it palatable and I’m sure fucking Crass or Siouxie and the Banshees wouldn’t want their shit stitched on their jackets, no matter how much you paid them.
Emma Stone also claimed it was hard not to smoke in her role because that is verboten in Disney (only in historic instances.) In that case, Disney tried to do something new and for that, I can appreciate it… so Playskool punk-rock.