Movie Review: Cruella (2021)

Hello! If you follow me on Instagram, you'll remember the poll I posted asking you guys which movie you'd rather me review, and Cruella won by a large margin! At long last, after tackling with my first few weeks of uni, I am here and excited to share my thoughts with you.

Although you know me as an author, and my major is in Computer Science, I am also incredibly fashion-obsessed. I love clothes, I love sewing, I love synchronizing outfits - and this movie was the nail in the coffin. I decided I was going to be Cruella - fashion-wise, not personality wise. That woman is a madwoman (more about that in a bit.)

Enough said about me! Let's talk about the reason we're all here - Cruella. Skip down to the movie poster for an overall judgement of the movie, or go through for a play-by-play observation of all the foreshadowing and brilliant details in the movie.

(Spoilers ahead! Obviously.)


The movie begins with a little girl born with an unusual hair color - half black, half white. Estella had spent her whole life trying as much as possible to "blend in" and not be "weird".

This behavior alone is an ingenious nod to Estella's real mom's identity, the Baroness. I also love the obvious foreshadowing to that fact via Estella's love for fashion, as well as the subtler nod via her sewing the "wrong" patterns together. Catherine (Estella's mum) is so desperate of not having her daughter turn out like that monster, she quits her job and dedicates all her time in adjusting her attitude.

Estella's mother encourages her to be Estella, "not Cruella!" But of course, via her genes, Estella can't help but be a little crazy. Before her mum withdraws her from the school, Estella has one friend that she's left behind - Anita Darling, who later re-enters Estella's life as the journalist who skyrockets Cruella's popularity.

On their way to London, Catherine stops at a high-class party at Hellman Hall to ask for money "from a friend". At this point, nobody knows Estella's real mom's identity except Catherine and John, the Baroness's valet. The Baroness - of course - does not care that a former maid of hers needs money, and sends her Dalmatians to kill her, so she can get rid of her for good.

At first look, this seems like a far-fetched and terrifying approach to deal with a problem, but as the movie goes on, we understand the Baroness's personality a little more, and how her shoving someone off a cliff to their death is perfectly in-character of her. Her only concern is that this person is ruining my reputation and needs to be gotten rid of, period.

Here, Estella runs away and ends up in London, falls asleep on the fountain-side, meets Jasper and Horace, then moves in with them so they can form a ragtag team of thieves who steal to live. Oh, and Estella blames herself for her mum's death and dyed her hair red in an effort to be normal, like her mother always wanted her to be.

Because of the simple life (and for the sake of her mother,) Estella is humbled. She has shifted away from her bio-mom's habits, and is obviously less "crazy". I loved Estella's personality here. She isn't a renowned fashion designer, but she gets to design clothes for her friends and herself on her heist.

Estella isn't crazy yet. She's still her sweet, outgoing self. Even when she lands a job with the Baroness, she's still humble. I love the footage of her working as a janitor; it demonstrates further how lovable Estella is. Even though she's misfortunate, she's kind and hardowrking. I also adore the scene where she redesigned the shop window, and grabs the business card with her teeth. She timidly shows up at the Baroness's HQ, and reluctantly works.

The scene where the Baroness slices Estella's arm with the knife demonstrates a brilliant contrast to their two personalities: the Baroness does not care that she's hurt someone else, she just wants to get to a result. Estella isn't afraid to speak up, both by exploring the premises to get the fabric, and by complaining to the Baroness that she injured her.

Estella remains herself when the Baroness takes on her as her personal assistant, similar to how Anne Hathaway was in "The Devil Wears Prada". We get to see more of Estella's lovable personality and her resilience in keeping up with the Baroness while also getting what she wants.

The moment of Estella's downfall is when she notices the Baroness wearing her mom's red necklace - the one her mum left for her, the one she lost the night of her mom's murder.

Enraged, Estella plans a heist to steal it during the black and white ball. Chaos ensues, we've all seen it, but this scene has so much more in it than a Ocean's 8-style heist.

Even dressed as "Cruella", we can still see Estella. Her mannerisms, her countenance, the way she thinks and forms her words - all of it scream Estella. She still isn't full on Cruella yet, and has no reason to. In her subconscious, it's just another theft she's performing with her friends. She fumbles on her words as she speaks. She stands tall to fake confidence, but she doesn't feel like she belongs.

(Oh, and the epic entrance. Pure art. A few scenes earlier, in case you didn't notice, we see Horace playing with a lighter and some fabric. She incorporates that idea into her big entrance.)

When she discovers that the Baroness killed her mom, however, the guilt that kept her sane is gone - emphasis on sane and guilt. Looking deeper, we understand that Estella wasn't kind out of the goodness of her heart. She was nice because A) she's guilty that her natural recklessness is what killed her mom, and B) she grew up to become the person her mom wanted her to be. Discovering that the Baroness is the reason her mother is dead, however, erases all of that guilt, and the mental Cruella makes her first appearance - unlike the black-and-white ball, which was merely a physical appearance. She's enraged, she's hurt, and most of all, she's grieving all over again.

At this point I was surprised Estella - yes, still partially Estella - didn't plan to kill the Baroness in revenge, until we remember that some part of Catherine still lives inside her.

But the crazy has been unlocked. She throws her years of friendship with Horace and Jasper out the window by being "Cruella" even to them, ordering them to kidnap the Baroness's Dalmatians. Cruella consults Anita and asks her to write in her favor, in order to overshadow the Baroness. Lastly, she asks the help of Artie - the fashion store keeper - to be her pre-mature production line. All while still working for the Baroness, serving as a double-agent for herself.

Anita is taken aback at Cruella's appearance in her office, and comments on the trouble they got into as kids. Cruella tells her that Estella is "of the past", and laughs manically; she's decided to destroy the Baroness.

Now, Estella's still there. Not when the red wig is on; no. Estella is still inside, somewhere. But now, it isn't Estella putting on a black-and-white hat like in the beginning, it's Cruella running the show. She even challenges Jasper when he stands up to her - in the comfort of her own home, where she previously was okay with being Estella. Revenge has eaten her up and now she's gone mad. There is a way of going back, yes. There's still hope. But Cruella doesn't take it.

This is where the ingenuity begins; where Cruella shows us what she's truly capable of.

Looking at Cruella's character development, she's definitely gone bad. I'm not saying that it's a good thing! She's still the villain, even if she's the protagonist. And even though she's bad, you still root for her, because the movie wants you to. Because the Baroness is much worse. There's casualties, of course - like her friendship with Jasper and Horace - but it's all in the name of revenge.

Every scene that follows is more breathtaking than the last. The motorcycle with the museum projector is first. Here, there isn't anything "stunning" about it - just Cruella announcing her entrance into the fashion world. She declared herself "the Future" of fashion, and begins overtaking the Baroness's spotlight.

With each event, Cruella's ego grows exponentially. Her trapping the Baroness in her car had no reason but to gloat. That's it. She did it because she could, because she wanted to. She unrolls a banner that says "past", because the Baroness is gone, and she's here to take her throne.

And then comes the trash scene ... oh goodness, that scene was just amazing. I loved it, I loved it, I loved it. It left me open-mouthed. Indirectly, she's calling the Baroness trash since she was "dumped" at the floor of her red carpet. In another way, however, she is also gloating her brilliance by making a dress out of scraps.

Her manic laugh punctuating that scene demonstrates very well her mental state at that point, and how she's going deeper down the hole.

Parallel to these events, Cruella has been hiding her designs from the Baroness. She still catches her though, and orders her to make one of the hidden designs. Instead of using beads, she uses moth eggs. Jasper and Horace "break in", making the Baroness hide her designs in a vault.

This is just ... genius. Cruella might be a bad person but she's thought out her plan well. The Baroness has her dresses eaten, making people go to Cruella's show instead. She wears a Dalmatian coat, leading everyone to believe including the Baroness, and the viewers for a moment, that she has murdered her dogs for fashion.

Murder here isn't far-fetched at all. We've seen Estella's downfall, and we've seen Cruella slowly go manic. We watched her be brute and mean to her closest friends, we've seen her go crazy over upstaging the Baroness.

She goes home alone; symbolically, she looks exactly the way she has become. Alone, without her friends, stuck up in her own world of narcissism. She goes home and sees how it has affected her - the Baroness frames her friends for her murder, and leaves Cruella to burn to death - again, not crazy.

For us viewers, it's easy for us to think of how insane of a conclusion that is. Which is a good thing! We have humanity, we have feeling for others, so in our head burning someone to death is too brutal.

The Baroness, however ... we're talking about the woman who ordered her own child's death so she can focus on her career and keep her husband's inheritance all to herself.

This begs another question - did the Baroness think she was never going to die? I mean she's already old in the movie ... I'd give her 10-20 more years max. After her death, her wealth was either going to be redistributed or stolen by her employees. Or did she want a reputation that surpasses her death? I'm not sure.

Back to the story - John rescues Cruella from the flames. He tells her the truth about the necklace, and her birth mom. She goes out in rage to the fountain for one last time, and sees clearly why her mom had an issue with Cruella. Here, we see Estella truly die. The old her is gone, and there's no way of coming back. She does apologize to Jasper and Horace after breaking them out of jail, and they reluctantly accept. That apology, though, didn't come from Estella. It came from Cruella realizing her need for others. She cannot be who she wants to be - she cannot be the Baroness without a little help.

Even though Cruella assures John and her mom that she's "nothing like that psycho", she is. She has become the Baroness, except that she has a little more empathy for others. She isn't down for murder (yet) but she's definitely mad.

The final event of the movie takes place. I'm not gonna go into a play-by-play detail, but let's go over the noteworthy details:

- When she approaches the Baroness with the needle, we all think she's going to kill her. Jasper thinks he's going to kill her. The viewers think she's going to kill her. Like I said, since she finds out that the Baroness killed her mom, she's been gradually going down the path to becoming the Baroness, whose ultimate flaw is indifference to death. She ends up teasing her with a prick, intimidating her and foreshadowing her downfall. Estella was but an employee, and now she was going to be her end.

- The symbolic "death" she gives Estella. She goes the same way her mother did; down a cliff. At that point we also discover that Cruella's narration was her giving "a speech" at her dear friend Estella's funeral. "She's now with her mum," Cruella sadly states. This reveals she still loved Catherine, even though she was never her real mom. Estella was gone, and her values and emotions too, so Cruella can now comfortably sit in the front seat and drive. Estella is now permanently gone, and Cruella - even if she loved her mom - can live freely without any expectation of her being nice.

- The renaming of Hellman Hall to Hell Hall. She is, at least, self-aware of the semi-psychopath she is. Her mansion, her existence is hell, and she's willing to make everybody else's life hellish as well.

The movie ends with her sending off the newborn puppies to the Baroness's ex-lawyer and Anita. Although it bears resemblance to the original "101 Dalmatians" movie, it isn't directly related to it. We could argue that over the years, with the decline of Cruella's age and mental state, the madness devoured her and she did end up wanting the puppies to kill them for fur coats. After all, the Baroness would have done it, right?

The movie overall was incredible. Unlike Maleficent, I don't think they gave us Cruella's backstory to make her a justifiable villain. We sympathize with her, but ultimately, she chose the evil path. She's still a villain. But her story is still amazingly thought out and was a great watch.

The cast alone was so well-chosen it added to the magic of the movie. It's been a while since I've walked out of a movie dizzy with wonder. The writing was so good. I hope someday my writing has that kind of power and intricacy.

Generally, I think it earned a 10/10. There's nothing it didn't miss, especially in the plot twists and climaxes. When Cruella almost burns then discovers the truth about her birth, one expects her to repent and go back to being Estella. Instead, she doesn't change at all. She's still Cruella, although she has a bit more self-awareness. There's also no last-minute love story between her and Jasper like I'd initially feared. They still see each other as siblings, and I love it.

What did you think of the movie? Did you notice something I didn't? Do let me know in the comments! And subscribe to always stay up to date with my blog!

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