Disney's New Cruella & Why It Works So Well (SPOILERS)
This week, I'm breaking down Disney's newest live-action flick based on an animated film from the past. CRUELLA.
First of all, I LOVED it. It was "brilliant, bad, and a little bit mad" That's something she herself says and it fits.
One of the reasons it's so good is the storytelling. They got down to basic principles and made it work.
I'll get back to that in a second but WOW the costumes, the sets, the music, and the acting from every single actor were all beyond my expectations. I know it's Disney but not everything they do works as well as this did.
I highly recommend that you go see it in the theater but it's also playing on Disney + for a fee this month.
BELOW THERE ARE MASSIVE SPOILERS so don't read any further if you don't want to know how Cruella's tale unfolds and how she becomes who she is.
This said it will help you with your crafting of stories because I'm going to show you how and why this is so successful as a story.
I love the Hero's Journey Model and I love Blake Snyder's Save The Cat so this is what I'm using to illustrate how great this really is.
The ORDINARY WORLD ~ we meet Cruella as a small child named Estella, (but her mother calls her Cruella as a warning to behave), and while there is a voice over-which I generally tell all my screenwriting and TV writing clients to avoid like the plague (insert current pandemic). We see here that she is a born trouble-maker as she has been placed into a boarding school of sorts, where she meets a character who plays an important role later. We meet her mother too and we learn that she doesn't have a father in the picture, they aren't rich and times are a bit tough.
CALL TO ADVENTURE ~ She gets kicked out of the boarding school due to her "Cruella" behavior so her mom decides to take her to London. It is also shown here that she has a knack for fashion and is wicked creative. AND she loves dogs as she picks up a stray during her time at school and brings him home. AWWWW that's her Save The Cat moment--she is really a good person-right?
INCITING INCIDENT/REFUSAL OF THE CALL ~ Disney wouldn't be Disney if they didn't have a parent fall to their death at the beginning of a film and have our star be an orphan. This creates sympathy for miss Estella immediately if her poverty-stricken situation didn't. On the way to London Estella's mom says they need to make a stop along the way she tells her daughter to stay out of sight and behave when they arrive at a mansion at the top of a cliff that is hosting a gala. Well, we all knew what would happen, didn't we? She doesn't and chaos ensues. The last scene in this section is Estella being chased by three Dalmations (who are actually quite on point for Dalmations) outside where we see her mother arguing with someone, who turns out to be the Baroness, a top fashion designer who is hosting this lavish party they are crashing. The dogs run after Estella, she hides and her mother falls to her death and just like little Simba in The Lion King, Estella is convinced that it's her fault so she runs.
MENTOR ~ finding her way all the way to Lonon she is sleeping at the fountain her mom promised to bring her for tea and crumpets to celebrate their new life, now completely gone, she wakes up to meet two kids straight out of Oliver Twist, and we know them from 101 Dalmations as Jasper and Horace.
FIRST THRESHOLD ~ They almost get caught doing petty theft all over town and she moves in with them and they become a team of little thugs.
THE NEW WORLD
In the Hero's Journey, this isn't mentioned but it's important because it's at the quarter mark and where your story really begins. Your main character is now in a completely different reality than when the story started. Remember Estella? Poor little girl attending a private school in the country in England? Now living as a street rat with a couple of thieves in the city living a life of crime.
TEST, ALLIES, ENEMIES ~ They are all grown-up now, young adults scamming their way in the world and it's clear to Jasper and Horace that Estella really wants to be in fashion. Jasper makes some connections and gets her a job at the swankiest department store in London. She is in heaven and then boom, we see that she is really just a maid scrubbing toilets/floors at the bottom of the building not doing anything with fashion.
APPROACH TO INMOST CAVE or FUN AND GAMES ~ this moves the story forward but also shows us more and more about the characters reinforcing their goals, wants, needs. In this story, Estella is shown over and over talking to her immediate boss and wanting to try something in fashion but he treats her like dirt because that's just who he is, and denies her the dream of doing anything even closely related to her real dreams.
MIDWAY/ORDEAL ~ this is her MIRROR MOMENT/RECOMMITTMENT to her goals scene. Estella decides to swipe her boss's expensive scotch and drink it while roaming around the store after hours, she stumbles into the front window which she decides to reimagine and of course it's brilliant. None other than the Baroness sees the window the next day and just as Estella is fired for her behavior she offers her a job in fashion.
What is great about this is that it gives her something positive but don't worry this doesn't last. We soon realize that the Baroness is a complete narcissist who uses her assistants to create all her fashions, taking all the credit.
Estella learns that it was not her fault that her mom died but rather the Baroness's and she has had it with being treated so badly; she decides to use her alter-ego, CRUELLA to take her down. This is where the super fun begins but Estella was such a fun character that we were hooked and want her to succeed.
CRUELLA is now showing up at parties, upstaging the Baroness and causing a lot of trouble all over London and this was done in such a way that we really love her and root for her even though when she reconnects with her friend from school, Anita, that she loves being wicked and chaos a bit too much!
REWARD/SEIZING THE SWORD ~ Cruella has taken over and Estella is pretty much gone now but she doesn't care, she is reaping the benefits of her actions, and then BOOM, the Baroness decides to kill her. Turns out by the way that one of the three dalmatians actually swallowed the family heirloom so they kidnap the dogs, and when the Baroness discovers who she really is, she vows to get her dogs back and get rid of Cruella, the competition, and her long last daughter once and for all,
Cruella ends up trapped and Jasper and Horace are taken to jail after attempting to steal back a family heirloom that Estella lost as a kid. The Baroness has seemingly won as we see Cruella tied down and a fire set to her loft/home. It's bleak.
Note that in this section, Horace and Jasper have given up on her because of her behavior so it really is the all is lost moment for her. She has nothing and now she is going to die.
THE ROAD BACK ~ Cruella isn't dead, of course, and she was saved by one of the Baroness's right-hand servants. He explains that Estella is really the Baroness's daughter who she actually sent away to be killed as an infant, of course, this is how it unfolds and while it's predictable it gives reason for why Estella turns into Cruella--REVENGE--and she loves being bad. Of course, she does, it's in her nature. They get Horace and Jasper and plot the Baroness's fate.
Cruella is the author of her own disaster but we watch her make mistakes and still cheer her on because she is likable and interesting.
RESSURECTION ~ Cruella rises from the ashes and devises a diabolical plan to get the Baroness back for everything and before she was just having fun, but now she is pissed so watch out. With the help of her two friends, Horace and Jasper who she gets back into good graces with by apologizing for her behavior and giving them a place to live. She is now on top and helps them because they are family.
CLIMAX ~ The Baroness has a huge gala and invites the media and all of London when Cruella shows up to take her down. Cruella foresees that the Baroness might know she's really alive, I'm not sure entirely why but she makes it so every guest shows up as her to confuse and mess with the Baroness.
At the event, she goes to the exact spot where her mother died and lures the Baroness out there knowing full well that she will kill her the way she killed her mother by pushing her off the cliff. She makes sure that all of the guests from the party are out there to witness this.
THIS IS THE ENDING so don't read on if you really don't want to know.
Cruella tricks the Baroness into pushing her over the cliff, but she's not exactly dead. Cruella has a parachute that saves her but it's the death of Estella for good and the new Cruella has emerged. The Baroness is carted off to prison and our heroine gets justice and it ends up where 101 Dalmations starts.
This is why it worked so well and is crushing the box office!
The story arcs in this film were spot on. All the characters were connected in some way. They even made sure to get in characters and the car from the original cartoon. It's brilliant in so many ways even though it's a bit predictable, it's totally original at the same time. They did for Cruella what Wicked did for the wicked witch of the west aka, Elphaba--they gave her sympathy and reasons for her actions as well as her version of the story.
I really hope that you go see it and enjoy every moment, and learn a bit about storytelling too.
WALT DISNEY PICTURES Cruella is a 2021 American crime comedy film based on the character Cruella de Vil from Dodie Smith's 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians. The film is directed by Craig Gillespie with a screenplay by Dana Fox and Tony McNamara, from a story by Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel, and Steve Zissis
starring Emma Stone & Emma Thompson see full cast information here
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