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Let Cruella Be Her True Villainous Self

I mean, her name is literally Cruel Devil.

The latest teaser for Disney’s Cruella has dropped, giving fans another peek at the origin story of one of Disney’s most iconic villains. We see Emma Stone as Estella, a struggling fashion designer scrubbing the floors at a fancy department store. She purrs, “I want to make art, and I want to make trouble,” as we see her face off against fashion legend Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson). “Whether you have the killer instinct is the big question,” Thompson says, to which Stone replies, “I hope I do.”

Well, we’re hoping so as well. As we get closer to the release of Cruella (May 28, although Disney hasn’t decided whether the film’s release will be theatrical or on Disney+ or both), everyone is wondering whether Cruella will allow its titular character to be, well, cruel. It’s a fair question, given Disney’s previous villain-centric efforts.

Maleficent, which promised viewers a campy and cackling Angelina Jolie, instead delivered a sympathetic anti-heroine. In framing the character’s mythology, the writers gave Maleficent an origin story that includes a metaphor for sexual assault, re-imagining Aurora’s father as an abuser. It’s solid world-building, but it felt like audiences were denied the promise of the premise, i.e. Jolie hamming it up as a wicked fairy queen. The film, which is named after Jolie’s character, removes her from the spotlight entirely. The second half of the film sees her hiding behind trees and doorways, watching and protecting Aurora from afar.

The sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, has even longer gaps where Jolie is absent. It’s also a misnomer, as the titular “mistress of evil” does very little to earn the moniker. Even Michelle Pfeiffer’s villainous Queen Ingrith is a half-hearted villain at best.

Which brings us back to Cruella. Viewers don’t need a sympathetic backstory or childhood trauma to understand the wicked fashion designer. And is there even an origin story that justifies her desire to murder 101 Dalmatian puppies? Disney’s villains have their own rabid fan base, and it’s not based in imagined grim beginnings. We love villains because they unabashedly are who they are. They know they’re evil and they love it. Let Cruella be the villain she is.

I have high hopes for this film, especially since the director, Craig Gillespie previously explored complex women in the fantastic I, Tonya. I’m also excited to see the Emmas go head to head. Both are accomplished, Oscar-winning actresses who are clearly relishing their roles.

After all, film has long had a love affair with troubled men and their rage (see Joker, American Psycho, There Will Be Blood, etc.). Isn’t it time to afford the same courtesy and screen-time to villainous women? Netflix’s recent film I Care A Lot centered on an irredeemable female protagonist, with Rosamund Pike winning a Golden Globe for her performance.

At the end of the day, Cruella is a movie for kids and families. So while I’m not expecting (nor would I want) the canine equivalent of a horror film, I still think there’s room for some audaciously campy and over the top evil. I mean come on, guys. Her name is literally “Cruel Devil.”

(featured image: Disney)

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Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.