Written by Katie Constantine
Edited by Morgan Moore
The new movie Cruella, written by Dana Fox and Tony McNamara, dives into the backstory of the infamous villain from 101 Dalmatians, Cruella De Vil. In order for the movie to be a success, it’s crucial for the writers to get us to root for Cruella. This is a tall order considering she’s been hated for decades now, but the writers were able to achieve this feat by doing the following:
- Take Away Her Worst Trait
She is known for wanting to kill dogs and make them into coats. That’s a hard thing to come back from, which is why it was imperative for Fox and McNamara to show Cruella with dogs that she loves. Her relationship with Wink and Buddy offsets her destructive ideology in 101 Dalmatians and sets you up to learn that it’s not actually dogs that she hates. There’s a much deeper issue at play.
- Make Her Understood
Once you learn how difficult Cruella’s childhood was, and how Dalmatians killed her mother, you can understand why she’s triggered by them. It doesn’t excuse her actions, but it does create an understanding that then takes away the notion that she’s just a horrible person. This understanding then creates empathy for the character, which is the first step towards rooting for them.
- Create a New Villain Who Makes Cruella Look Good
From the beginning, you are made to hate Emma Thompson’s character, the Baroness. She has no redeemable qualities and thus makes Cruella look more likable in comparison. While Cruella is known for wanting to kill Dalmatians, the Baroness becomes (spoiler alert) known for wanting to kill babies, something exponentially worse. In addition, the Baroness’s Dalmatians are shown as cruel creatures, which adds another layer to Cruella’s innocent persona.
- Humanize Her
In 101 Dalmatians, we see Cruella as someone with a heart of stone who only cares about herself. In this backstory, we see that, while Cruella has bouts of extreme selfishness, her love for her chosen family outweighs that personality defect. This softens people’s view of her.
- Cast a Likeable Actress
Emma Stone is a phenomenal actress who depicts every corner of Cruella’s personality perfectly, but who Emma is as a person had a major impact on the character as well. This role wouldn’t have worked with an unknown actress, even if she had the same level of talent as Emma. That’s because, since the majority of people already like Emma Stone, she is able to carry that image to the role. So when people walk into the theater, they’re already rooting for Emma, which takes the edge off the fight to get people to root for Cruella.
- Nature vs. Nurture
From the very beginning, we are taught that Cruella is a naturally disruptive person, but she tries to fight it. This duality is seen in her black and white hair, her rudeness at a young age, and her mother’s fight to teach her right from wrong. When she dyes her hair red in an attempt to hide from the authorities, she’s also hiding her natural personality and choosing nurture to make her deceased mother proud. This fight to be a good person tells the audience that this character is trying to do the right thing, and that it’s not really her fault if she trips up and does the wrong thing, or if she’s forced into a life of petty theft, because that’s just her nature. It’s a brilliant excuse that also makes people identify with her character, because we’re all trying to be better people, but sometimes our negative traits win out.
- Give Her an Alter Ego
Have you ever encountered a person who does terrible things to gain success at their job, but is kind outside the office? It’s hard to reconcile the two sides of their personality, but it also allows you to blame everything on their business side – hence the, ‘it’s just business, it’s not personal’ ideology. Cruella’s good and bad sides are also divided up, and so you can blame ‘Cruella’ for all the bad things she does, while still liking ‘Estella’.
4 comments on “How ‘Cruella’ Makes You Root for the Villain”
Cruella redeemed I guess!
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I’d say understood, not redeemed. A few years after this movie she’ll still go on to dognap and attempt to murder the 15 puppies of a friend, who SPOILER: we now know helped her in minor but crucial ways to come out on top by the end of this movie. This story just tells us how she got to that point.
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I adored this movie, and I’m delighted to see a breakdown of how the story worked to make the audience sympathetic toward yet another Disney villain. The third point in this post brings up an issue that might be worth considering more deeply: why is it okay to use women against one another to evoke sympathy or create a hierarchy of badness or madness? Reductive or simplistic storytelling that chooses to use another person (often another woman?) as a scapegoat for the main character’s bad behaviour has a long history; breakdowns like these can help us expose and question them. So what do we do next?