At first glance, “Cruella” the movie that attempts to tell the backstory of “101 Dalmatians'” villain, Cruella De Vil, might not appeal to anyone who does not love Disney. However, with a rocking soundtrack, and a rags-to-riches trajectory, “Cruella” develops widespread appeal. “Cruella” began streaming and appearing in theaters May 28, 2021.
“Cruella”: fiction that keeps dogs in mind
One thing viewers should keep in mind while watching the movie is to not overthink how old the dogs must be. In short, Cruella begins life as a girl named “Estella.” As a teenager and young adult she is played by Emma Stone. Stone’s scrappy determination and huge-eyed stare makes the emotional moments even more meaningful.
Without giving too much away, viewers should keep in mind that young Cruella always has a dog, and he is the same dog. One of the boys she falls in with also has a dog. The three kids get smart on the streets of London as Cruella learns to adjust to life as an orphan. As tempting as it is to try to do the math to figure out how old the dogs and the kids are, that will take away from the fun of the movie. Also, considering that dogs can live well into their teens should be enough to satisfy those who want to ground the movie in their version of reality.
The rocking sounds of “Cruella’s” soundtrack
Even if the ages of the dogs is not a viewer’s concern, few people can ignore the soundtrack. The music is overwhelming British, and it brings a swagger to the movie that underscores the idea that three orphans are learning to pickpocket in order to have necessities. (The dogs help with the pickpocketing, by the way.) The hard-knock life is enhanced by rock music.
The first noticeable song is “Bloody Well Right” by Supertramp. But throughout, the film becomes almost a name that tune kind of experience. Listeners familiar with the songs will see how the sound and sometimes the lyrics play up the onscreen action and that helps viewers have context for the world of the film.
As the film goes on, Queen, Nancy Sinatra, Nina Simone, The Rolling Stones, and even Ike and Tina Turner doing their version of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” make an impact on the sound and feel of the movie.
Cruella’s (the character) embodies the rock ‘n’ roll ethos that the film sells. It is fitting that she is a fashion designer. She is drawn to the ability of clothes to send a message, and they do, even when she is wearing an outfit adorned by suspenders and wallet chains.
For viewers of a certain age, the connection between fashion and rock music are not new. To see that connection played up for a new generation reaffirms what some audiences already knew: the theatricality of rock music makes it a perfect partner with rock music. That this music of rebellion and self-identity forms the soundtrack of “Cruella” makes sense.
While the soundtrack rocks, and the visuals dazzle, there is still a story to be told in “Cruella.” Cruella is the protagonist, and her nemesis is The Baroness played wickedly well by Emma Thompson. They try to outdo each other once Cruella figures out what their connection is. The revelation of the detail is much less hackneyed than it might seem.
“Cruella”: for the dogs
While the age of the dogs onscreen might be one thing, the care of all the dogs in the film is another. Despite previous visions of (older) Cruella as a dog-killer, in this one, she and everyone else in the film, preserves the lives of dogs. (Spoiler.) There are many instances wherein it seems as if a dog, or three, would be mortally wounded. The movie avoids the Hollywood trope of injuring or killing animals onscreen to prove how depraved certain characters are. This is a relief. And, the kindness to animals appears not to be a fluke: at the end, there is a message about pets needing forever homes. This push for adoptions in hindsight, plays up the orphans and mongrels versus the high-born and the purebred. Reportedly the message is included at the behest of PETA.
Had this film been the first to showcase Dalmatians in a Disney movie, fewer people might have been clamoring for them as perfect pets for children. Dalmatians, as visually stunning as they tend to be, are big dogs with proportionately large teeth. Nearly every animal is “cute” as a baby. But potential owners should be reminded that puppies who are successfully reared will spend most of their lives as adults – – fangs and attitudes included.
It was also helpful that this film was not a cartoon; the realities of Dalmatians and of dogs in general were made clear. They love their owners and they hurt when the person is not him or herself anymore.
“Cruella achieves the storytelling dream of making audiences suspend their disbelief. That suspense is threatened by how seriously a viewer takes her dog facts. Otherwise, seeing the backstory of a misunderstood Disney villain underscored by a rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack is a cinematic treat.