Cruella: Disney’s Old Villain or Your New Feminist Icon?

Valentina Pérez Sánchez

Cruella comes back in 2021 with a great twist on the story that everybody knows. Add a classic “dad-rock” soundtrack, a Vivienne Westwood meets Alexander McQueen costume design, and a double villain fight and you’ve got yourself the perfect movie for this summer. However, in an attempt to forge a feminist icon, Disney fails to grasp what that truly means. Keep reading to see what artil thinks about Cruella.

Image source: Disney

Psst! This article contains mild spoilers about the Cruella (2021) movie. 

Cruella de Vil, eternal madwoman, a famous classic Disney villain known for her loathing of dalmatians, sassiness, and outrageous style has gotten a makeover. Even if it may seem that the tale has been softened for commercializing reasons, which it has, we love the final result, the execution of the film itself, and the morals behind the story. 

We love a backstory of the anti-hero coming from a humble background, and the refreshment of the old tale: no dog hate or violence towards animals and a healthy Cruella that doesn’t smoke. Cruella is a renegade, a punk, who wants to make it into the fashion industry until her nemesis, the ice-queen Baroness’s, true intentions are revealed. 

In an often male-centered cast, we can’t help but highlight the power duo that Emma Stone and Emma Thompson make. Apart from displaying excellent performances, their iconic battle of fashion looks throughout the whole movie is stunning! With a total of 80 different costumes between these two, the film’s artistic faction is very amusing and eclectic. 

It’s safe to say that Oscar-winner Emma Stone delivers an admirable portrayal of Cruella without fighting with Glenn Close’s shadow in 101 Dalmatians, which became the second live-action Disney remake back in 1996. Although we love 90’s Cruella and her emblematic red cigarette holder and maniacal laugh, 2021 Cruella is set in 1970’s London and makes a statement that’s fresh and anarchic. It’s satisfying to see the story of a woman that jumps from the ordinary into the special world, all of that while making a fashion manifesto and shaking the corporate, traditional world, and having a laugh on top of it. 

Although we enjoy seeing Cruella as independent, empowered, and a bit abusive too (after all, why can’t women be bad just for the sake of it?), it’s still hard not to see the faux-feminism direction that the movie takes. If men are abusive, it’s the patriarchy, but if a white woman is bad, then it’s empowerment. This could be easily fixed by allowing more intersectional stories to be brought to the screens, but Cruella isn’t enough. We just see a white woman who switches from being abused because she’s different to taking advantage of people who care about her and want to help her become who she truly wants to be. 

Unfortunately, like The Queen’s Gambit and many others, we are tired of seeing the use of secondary characters of color to make a white woman’s journey easier, without even trying to develop theirs. On top of it, we cannot help but notice how artificial and forced these character decisions look like, as if they were done this way just to make sure no one complains about the lack of diversity in the movie. 

We follow Cruella as she creates a side-kick entourage to help her become this badass villain who wants to destroy the establishment, which is really entertaining and all, but we’d love to see a bit more about the lives of these characters, especially when it could’ve turned into a cool movie about a team of queers that comes together as equals and help each other to destroy the traditional system while making a breaking fashion statement at the same time. 

During the movie, Cruella’s motivation stands out for being reckless, ravaging, and anti-capitalist, but when she finally gets to the top of the chain and takes the Baroness’ throne (and fabulous mansion) she becomes yet another aristocrat among the fashion elite.

Even if this is a great background for a sequel, we’d hate for Cruella to one day become the white rich lady that one day will want to skin a bunch of dalmatian puppies to make herself a coat, we’ve already seen that. 

What could have been better, if we can get fussy here, is the classic (anti)hero’s journey structure that is sometimes a bit predictable: it starts with the process of transformation from an orphan girl to a confident, kick-ass woman, the meeting with the mentor (The Baroness), a series of tests, the ordeal, the seeking of allies, the dark moment before the final revelation, and the list goes on. 

Furthermore, the movie turns into a very long 134 minutes, over two hours, and the flatness of secondary characters, as mentioned earlier, could have definitely been broadened. As the last point, we can also perceive a bit of a  Joker-style story: a mentally troubled person with artistic talent that after a series of hardships, ups and downs, finally chooses to embrace their alter-ego, but made acceptable for a PG-13 audience. 

But after all, we can’t forget that this is still a Disney movie; it’s light and fun and it’s meant to be enjoyed!

Valentina Pérez Sánchez

"I joined artil mainly to channel my discontent and frustration with today’s world. Through my words, I expect to advocate equality for people of all genders, to fight for a greener environment, and to challenge the current capitalistic system from which most of our problems as a society come. Let’s change the current narrative and live in a fairer place!"
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