(This article is absolutely filled with spoilers for “Cruella,” Disney’s live-action prequel to “101 Dalmatians”)
In Disney’s latest live-action reimagining, “Cruella,” a villain’s origin story is once again retold. But in the end, it’s actually more of a direct prequel to “101 Dalmatians” than you might’ve expected.
In fact, “Cruella” tosses in a “101 Dalmatians” nod before we even get two and a half minutes into the film. As Cruella walks the halls of her new school, she runs into a pair of bullies who refer to her as a skunk, thanks to her iconic hair. As they trot off snickering, a young girl named Anita comes up behind Cruella to introduce herself.
Yes, it’s that Anita. The very same one who will eventually work for Cruella and, sadly, get her puppies stolen and nearly skinned by Cruella. In this version, Anita’s last name is literally Darling, as a reference to the pet name Cruella de Vil uses for her in the original “One Hundred and One Dalmatians.”
Fortunately, Anita isn’t just a quick cameo, a wink to Disney fans. She pops up again in adulthood, as a gossip reporter that helps Cruella’s rise to fame. The two women have a bit of an unlikely friendship, giving a little more credibility to the fact that Anita eventually works directly for Cruella, and voluntarily at that.
And yes, Anita’s future husband Roger shows up in “Cruella” too. But even here, he and Cruella hold as much contempt for each other as they do in any other version of “101 Dalmatians.”
In this story, Roger is a lawyer for the Baroness (Emma Thompson). Unfortunately, when he can’t come up with a valid reason for the Baroness to sue Cruella for upstaging her, Roger is fired.
“Roger always blamed me for getting him fired,” Cruella says via voiceover. “But the real reason Roger was fired is because… he’s Roger.”
Then of course, there’s Jasper and Horace, Cruella de Vil’s faithful lackeys. Only in this story, they aren’t always faithful. In fact, they develop a bit of a sore spot for Cruella as the film goes on.
When Jasper and Horace meet her though, they meet her as Estella. The two boys find her sleeping at a fountain in Regent’s Park the morning after she arrives. Deciding that they’re a better option than ending up in prison, Estella follows them to their hideout. Jasper and Horace let her stay, and the trio develops an admittedly cute friendship that lasts into adulthood.
But when Estella decides to adopt her Cruella persona, she starts treating Jasper and Horace much worse. Still, they’re family, and eventually they all make up and the men continue to help the villainess with her schemes. Actually, it’s hard not to ship Cruella and Jasper as a romantic couple in more than a few spots in the movie.
The biggest lead-in to “101 Dalmatians” though, comes in a post-credits scene which almost directly sets that story up – while still leaving miles of room for a “Cruella” sequel, of course.
When the first trailer for “Cruella” dropped, many questioned why exactly there were Dalmatians in the footage. Considering the movie was meant to be an origin story for Cruella — before her Dalmatian-hunting days — the presence of the famous dogs created confusion on the timeline of the movie.
But, as it turns out, those Dalmatians belonged to the Baroness. They were also responsible for killing Cruella’s mother. And though Cruella does joke at one point that they would make fabulous coats, she assures Jasper that she’s kidding.
But, once Cruella gets the Baroness arrested for apparent murder, she keeps all three of the dogs, having secretly trained them while they lived with her. (Cruella may not be a puppy killer yet, but she’s still a dognapper in this movie).
Apparently, the dogs got real friendly with Cruella and Horace’s own pups during their time together, and the movie ends with Horace pointing out that the female dog has put on weight. But actually she’s pregnant.
In the post-credits scene we learn that Cruella has given away two of of the pups — one to Anita and one to Roger. Each person gets a card, introducing them to Perdita and Pongo respectively. And obviously, we know those names. They’re the dogs that eventually bring Anita and Roger together in the park, and kick off the events of “101 Dalmatians.”
The film leaves us with a pretty big question mark, however, by not quite turning Cruella into the cartoon villain we know and love. Are they leaving open the possibility for another prequel? Or could they be gearing up for a “Maleficent”-style reimagining of “101 Dalmatians”? Either is possible — Disney rarely lets a good IP sit idle for long.