The hallmark of a good Disney villain? An enduring icon whom we genuinely feared while growing up, and then later appreciate once we start acknowledging their supreme, unshakable confidence. And Cruella de Vil, arguably the most compelling character in 101 Dalmatians, is as bold as they come. With her menacing sneer, cunning schemes, and signature two-toned hair, she checks all those boxes, while owning truly wicked style and a wardrobe we’d love to raid.
In Cruella, Disney’s latest live-action film, the big baddie comes in haute with a refreshing origin story that’s set in the punk era of 1970s London, led by director Craig Gillespie. The film stars Emma Stone as our fabulous protagonist, who starts off as Estella, an aspiring and ambitious fashion designer who catches the eye of industry veteran Baroness von Hellman, played by Emma Thompson. This meeting of legends then sends the plot careening into a fun trajectory where we see Estella embrace her wild and competitive side — which then allows us a chance to admire her outstanding fashion creations.
A most talked-about moment in the film’s trailer sees her light her hooded cape on fire, revealing a stunning red haute couture gown underneath; in another scene, “the future” is stencilled across her face for a most punk-rock statement, while that irreverent attitude is carried over to a dress with a 40-foot train that Cruella not-so-subtly flaunts while hanging off the side of a garbage truck. This “absolutely ludicrous” look happens to be one of Emma Stone’s favourites too.
Prior to the film’s release on Disney+ on 28 May, we also got to speak with Nadia Stacey, the film’s hair and makeup designer, in an exclusive interview where we chat about the inspiration behind Cruella’s transcendent style, and the power of beauty in expressing who you are. Read on for our full review as well.
So, as delightful as Cruella appears to be, what do we truly make of Cruella, the film, especially since it’s regarded as (yet) another one of Disney’s live-action adaptations? Our honest take: it was thoroughly enjoyable. That this is an origin story, rather than a scene-for-scene remake of 101 Dalmatians, gives the story, the cast, and the crew, the freedom to steer away from Disney’s usual G-rated repertoire.
You see, Cruella is a refreshing ode to 70s punk, in look as well as in spirit. The fashion is to be celebrated, yes, as we see the protagonist in standout pieces that include severe black-and-white jackets, patent leather, and chunky chain accessories. The production design is just as meticulous, and everything from the hair and makeup, to wardrobe and set pieces, elevate the rich visuals of the film — all this as our favourite villainess cruises along to a 70s-inspired soundtrack that consists of The Clash, Blondie, and Ike & Tina Turner.
Yet, the film also manages to capture an attitude that’s bold, dark, edgy, and frankly, quite anti-Disney. The deliciously evil mood that Cruella exudes is played up to perfection by Emma Stone, who gets us caught up in scheme after devious scheme done in the name of revenge. A car chase, the Dalmatians, and the Panther De Ville car are obvious callbacks to key scenes in earlier films, but not central to the plot; instead, through the transformation of our title character, the film explores the important message of what it means to embrace your true self.
“It’s interesting, because there is a sort of rejection of Estella that comes at a point. Estella is sweet, but she’s not fully embodied,” says Stone. “I would say there is something about Cruella that’s pretty enticing, because she just kind of is who she is. She’s in full acceptance and autonomy there. So I am kind of interested in that Cruella world.”
Almost like a coming-of-age story, this underlying theme resonates with audiences who come to identify with the rebel at heart, as we delve into Cruella’s backstory and revelatory motivations, especially her relationship with her ride-or-die chosen family. This has us rooting for her at every turn, as she becomes decidedly more self-assured. The movie achieves this intimacy without being too precious about it, so while we enjoy her evil ways, we’re still very much aware of when she does cross some unforgivable lines.
What’s also refreshing is how the movie tackles the intense rivalry between Cruella and her mentor and nemesis, the Baroness — while the two women are obviously pitted against each other, it’s done in a way that’s more empowering than reductive. Emma Thompson gives the Baroness such gravitas and self-confidence that we can’t help but admire her for who she is: an undeniable woman of power.
In Thompson’s own words, she says: “I am very interested in the dark side of a female character, because they’re so rarely allowed to be dark. You know, we’re all supposed to nice and good, aren’t we? But the Baroness, she’s so single-minded, and she says this wonderful thing: “If I hadn’t been single-minded, I might have had to put my genius at the back of the drawer,” like so many other women of genius, who died without producing anything and without using their genius. It is a very good point.” Together, they make evil look good, feel good, and almost… wholesome — which is really no mean feat.
INTERVIEW WITH NADIA STACEY
As one of Disney’s reigning villains, Cruella must have been delightful to work on — what do you think is a defining trait for the character, and how did you interpret that?
“Her defining characteristics are about the confidence to be yourself and to create what works for you. For me, I was borrowing lots of different references from lots of different eras in creating this iconic character. She, as a character, is interested in all those types of beauty. I feel that she’s been borrowing and stealing things as she’s been going along, and then incorporating them into her look — and I think that’s what makeup and fashion is about, creating what works for you.”
Would you say she’s a trendsetter rather than a follower of trends?
“Absolutely! I think she wants to create something different, to make an impact. She doesn’t want to follow the designs of everybody else — she likes them, but is thinking, ooh, I’ll take that, then twist it and change it, which is what I was trying to do too, nodding to what we see and love, but doing a slightly different twist to that.”
We all know Cruella for her black-and-white hair, but what are new twists you added that make the character unique to this adaptation?
“Every time we see her, she has a different look — I didn’t just want to create one hairstyle and one makeup look and say that’s Cruella, because it didn’t feel right. I felt like she was continually being this chameleon, and changing herself and also mixing up the looks. There’s a look where she has “The Future” in bold graffiti across her face, which I then balanced with a beautiful crystal red lip done with jewels. It’s not just punk, it’s then got a fashion element to it. With the hair, it was about adding period elements to it, so thinking about 1970s musical styles that I was interested in and trying to emulate their looks. But also, I’d set a style, then completely mess it up. That’s Estella, that’s Cruella!”
Both Disney’s 101 Dalmatians and the 1996 film are known for their campiness. Did you embrace that as well?
“Absolutely, I had so many references all the time, and a massive one is drag. I love drag makeup! I’ve been really immersed into that, and the fact is these drag artists can sometimes take years to create their look. I think there’s definitely drag elements for sure. Every time we see her it’s a big impactful moment, like tada, here I am! And it’s the same for a drag queen coming out on stage. It’s always like, wow!”
Moving on to that now-iconic scene in the trailer, where Cruella sets her dress on fire at the ball. What was the one thing you felt like you had to get right?
“For that moment when she lit her dress, we made her mask out of tiny individual jewels and feathers to put across her face. Even though she’s in this beautiful, elegant dress, I wanted something impactful on her face too. That scene is the first time she goes to one of the Baroness’ events and where the Baroness doesn’t know who she is, so we’re also trying to disguise her. I needed to cover her face in a way that was still glamorous and beautiful, and that was the biggest thing to get right. Also, there are a lot of action moments, so it needed to be something on her face such that Emma [Stone] could still move her hands. That was tricky to figure out.”
Which do you think was the most challenging look, or something that pushed your own boundaries?
“The one where she was on the motorbike, because it’s scripted that she “pulls up, takes off her motorbike helmet, and tada”, and you know in real life if you did that, your hair would not look amazing. So I was thinking, how do I do that? Also, I kind of set myself up because I wanted her to constantly look different, so if I did something that was wow, then I had to make it bigger the next time, and the next time. Each time was challenging, but it was amazing that everyone allowed me the freedom to make it so different. When you see her hanging off the side of a garbage truck, her hair then is basically like an 18th century wig — I mean you wouldn’t think that you’d get that into a Cruella movie, but they let me!”
How do you think hair & makeup tells the story of a character?
“Hair and makeup is so important — they define a period as much as the environment, or any prop, any costume. They define who we are. If you look at any photography book of the era, the hairstyle, the silhouette of the period is obvious, and you immediately go, oh, that’s 60s, 70s, or 80s. Also, how you choose to do your hair and your makeup daily, that’s an expression of you — similarly, it’s an expression of a character and who they are. For me, it’s about getting into their head and thinking, what would she do, how would she wear her hair and do her makeup? It’s a huge part of storytelling.”
origin story is available in cinemas on 27 May 2021, and will be available on Disney+ with Premier Access from 28 May 2021.