Emma Stone is Estella de Vil, the young woman who will become the villain generations have loved to hate in Disney’s Cruella, a live-action, 1970s-set origin story that’ll follow her journey from ambitious young fashionista to puppy-plundering monster.
To celebrate the release of Cruella (2021), we present 10 fantastic facts you never knew about Cruella de Vil.
As the film’s fantastic trailers show, Cruella de Vil the villain was created, not born.
Emma Stone starts Cruella as Estella de Vil – driven, ambitious and not above doing whatever it takes to get ahead, only adopting the persona of Cruella (and the character’s iconic black and white hair) as she tangles with her fashion-house boss, the Baroness (Emma Thompson).
But how does her name translate around the world?
Okay, so author Dodie Smith isn’t literally Cruella de Vil’s mum, but she did write the 1956 novel upon which Disney’s 1961 film 101 Dalmatians was based.
A few fun facts about Dodie Smith – she owned nine dalmatians herself, including one called Pongo, and was inspired to write the novel when a friend remarked one day that the dogs would make a lovely fur coat. (Records do not show whether the ‘friend’ had a shock of black and white hair and a maniacal laugh).
Interestingly, Dodie also owned a 1939 Rolls-Royce 25/20 Sedanca de Ville, which not only looks quite like Cruella’s car but has a very familiar name.
And here’s another interesting fact: unlike Disney’s animation, Dodie Smith’s novel fleshes out Cruella de Vil’s backstory quite a bit.
It revealed that she was a pampered London heiress and a thoroughly unpleasant student with black and white plaits, who was expelled for drinking ink.
Pre-release clips from Cruella show the young villainess in training as a student, so clearly, Disney has been going back to the source for inspiration.
Before it was published as a standalone novel, Dodie Smith’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians was serialised in Woman’s Day magazine as The Great Dog Robbery (subtitled ‘A Novel for Dogs’).
In it, Perdita the dalmatian wasn’t the puppies birth mother but joined the family to help out with the big litter.
Meanwhile, the novel’s Cruella had both a mean-spirited Persian cat and a husband – a furrier whom Cruella only married for access to his fur business. Neither of these appeared in Disney’s 101 Dalmatians.
While Cruella follows the character’s early life, the trailers show some telling shots of dalmatians, clearly aggravated by the appearance of the future scourge of polka-dotted puppies.
Emma Stone is perfect casting as Estella de Vil, nailing the classic villain’s haughty ruthlessness and adding a devilish likability that’ll no doubt have us siding with the young fashion designer as she goes to war with The Baroness, her cold and calculating mentor.
But if Stone takes all the credit for Cruella 2021, several women helped to create Disney’s 1961 animated Cruella de Vil.
She was voiced by radio star Betty Lou Gerson, who had previously been heard in Disney’s Cinderella as the narrator.
During recording, many believed that Gerson’s performance was an exaggerated take on the voice and mannerisms of another actress, Tallulah Bankhead.
That may or may not be true, but Cruella’s long-limbed visual design was based on the character’s live-action model, Mary Wickes (who, incidentally, played Sister Mary Lazarus in the Sister Act films).
Disney’s Cruella is the first film entirely focused on de Vil, but it’s not the first time the infamous fashionista has been depicted in a live-action Disney film.
Giving Emma Stone some seriously big shoes to fill, the incredible Glenn Close (Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons, The Wife), played Cruella in not one but two Dalmatians films – 1996’s 101 Dalmatians and 2000’s 102 Dalmatians.
The role was originally offered to Sigourney Weaver but, watching these two very entertaining films now, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Close nailing the role of the older, completely unhinged de Vil as well as her!
Cruella de Vil isn’t just a great Disney villain.
In the American Film Institute’s 2003 100 Heroes & Villains list, Cruella came in at a very respectable 39th, ahead of Freddy Krueger, The Joker, and Hans Gruber to name just a few.
She’s also appeared in two fictional rich lists, coming in 13th in Forbes’ Fictional Fifteen with an estimated fortune of $875 million (just behind Citizen Kane’s Charles Foster Kane), and second in 2014’s Forbes Richest Disney Villains with an adjusted fortune of $1 billion. Sadly, she got pipped to the post by Scrooge McDuck’s eye-watering $65.4 billion.
In Disney’s Cruella, young Estella de Vil has certainly come from money – as glimpses of her home, Hell Hall, suggest – but in the vibrant fashion world of 1970s London, the heiress is a nobody and has to claw her way to the top.
Watching her go from zero to anti-hero is going to be Cruella’s great, guilty pleasure.
In Cruella, Estella’s path crosses with a former school friend of hers, Anita Darling (Kirby Howell-Baptiste – The Good Place, Killing Eve). Darling works as a journalist and gets a front-row seat for some of de Vil’s most theatrical stunts and society entrances.
It seems very likely Howell-Baptiste is playing the same Anita who’ll end up being dog-mom to 101 dalmatians later in Cruella’s life.
If so, then could Disney be planning to follow up Cruella with a brand new live-action 101 Dalmatians starring Emma Stone, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, plus Paul Walter Hauser and Joel Fry (as Cruella’s criminal dogsbodies, Horace and Jasper)?
While we absolutely, positively won’t sign off on dalmatian coats as fashion, we can wholeheartedly applaud Disney’s designer pick for Cruella (2021).
Jenny Beavan is a two-time Oscar-winning costume designer who’s created sartorial magic for films as varied as Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Howards End (1992), The King’s Speech (2010) and Life (2017).
It’s no wonder Cruella’s cast looks so fabulous, darling…
Whereas most Disney characters were historically created by a team of animators, 101 Dalmatians’ Cruella de Vil was drawn and animated by just one man: Marc Davis.
Davis was a Disney legend, having previously designed and animated iconic characters from Snow White and Bambi to Tinker Bell and Maleficent.
In Cruella, Davis saw the opportunity to create a modern-day villain for Disney and, from her haughty gestures to her monochrome hair and wild, wild eyes, his legacy is alive and well in Emma Stone’s inspired performance.
1961’s 101 Dalmatians is not a musical film but it does feature one very special song – a jazz-inflected roast called Cruella de Vil, composed and sung off-the-cuff by Pongo’s human pet, Roger Radcliffe.
Featuring the immortal lyrics “Cruella de Vil, Cruella de Vil, if she doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will”, legend has it that the song’s composer, Mel Leven had worked up several versions but came up with the winning formula just 45 minutes before he was due to present his music to Walt Disney himself.
Cruella’s soundtrack is awash with time-period appropriate tracks that clip the 1970s, including Queen’s Stone Cold Crazy, Blondie’s One Way or Another and The Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go.
But crowning the film's musical thread is a brand new track, Call Me Cruella performed with imperious swagger by Florence and the Machine, heard in the sneak peek above.
Were you born brilliant, bad and a little bit mad?
Then get ready for Disney’s Cruella…