Fashion and Music Come Together in a Bold, Dynamic Way in “Cruella”

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Musicals, as presented in American cinema, has changed. There was time, not to far back, where movies musicals were mostly about an All-American protagonist who encountered some sort of life challenge and used their mother wit, charm, and positive attitude to overcome adversity. Good triumphs over evil and the hero or heroine rides off into the sunset and choreography, music and plot distill the wholesome values of the Golden Rule.

Oh, the good ole days!! Still, maybe those good ole days were not so realistic even if they made you feel good and put a smile on your face. “Cruella” is not about the good ole days and does not make you feel shiny and clean. It does put a smile on your, but maybe because the subversive and the crooked also gives pleasure.

Prop from Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo by Laurie Sparham. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved.

And even though the music, costumes and décor of “Cruella” do move the plot forward as in days of yore, the combination of these things in “Cruella” can cause you to yearn for a time of adventure, risk-taking, and anarchism. There are no easy answers in this plot, and though the storyline is nuanced and well-thought, the real star of “Cruella” is the music and the fashion.

Set in the mid-60s and extending into the late 70s, “Cruella” tells the backstory of infamous Cruella de Vil character from the Disney 1961 classic “1001 Dalmatians,” based Dodie Smith’s 1956 bestseller “One Hundred and One Dalmatians.” “Cruella” delves into how the Estella character portrayed brilliantly by Emma Stone evolves into the 1001 Dalmatian-hating villain.

Image courtesy of Disney

The Music

While in most musical or movies with musical interludes the music helps the evolution of the storyline. In “Cruella,” the music serves as a background force to set and enhance the mood of the scenes. The music in “Cruella” span an eclectic pantheon of musical genres from 60s pop to 60s psychedelic rock, to 70s disco to glitter rock of early 70s, to 70s funk and beyond. Musical highlights are songs from Ike and Tina Turner, The Ohio Players, The Zombies, Doris Day, The J Geils Band, Joe Tex, Nancy Sinatra, Blondie, Judy Garland, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Nina Simone, The Bee Gees, and many others. There are 33 songs in “Cruella,” we will highlight a few that stood out most.

Joe Tex’s “Gotcha”

One of the funnier musical choices in “Cruella,” “Gotcha” is front and center when the Stooge-like trio bundle a robbery and punctuates the gala scene at Baroness’ party when the fancy ladies are tackled to the ground by male attendees.

Rolls Royce’s “Car Wash”

This disco hit of the mid-1970s is distinguished by it the opening beat of the unforgettable handclaps, followed a rhythmic rush of violins. Director Craig Gillepsie humorously place this 70s hit in the movie and Cruella and duo of thugs wait outside a dog grooming parlor to capture the dalmatians.

Electric Light Orchestra’s “It’s a Livin Thing”

Why include some rats in “Cruella” and pair this scene with the Electric Light Orchestra’s “It’s a Livin Thing”? Was this idea borrowed from “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane”? Whatever the reason the pairing of the rats on a tray with “It’s a Livin Thing” was a genius combination and funny, almost to a fault.

Ohio Player’s “Fire”

If you are going to include 70s funk tunes in a movie, depending on the scene, nothing works better than the Ohio Players funk hit “Fire.” And no other 70s funk song comes to mind that could work when Estella/Cruella purchases a vintage red Baroness dress.

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Nina Simone’s “It’s a New Day”

When Estella starts working as a design assistant for the Baroness, at her first glimpse of the design studio/atelier, Nina Simone’s “It’s a New Day” rings loud and clear, signifying that Estella’s dream is finally coming true. The dramatic sweep of Simone memorable voice illuminates Estella’s mixed emotions of anticipation and hesitation.

The Wardrobe

As outstanding and provocative as the music is in “Cruella,” the wardrobe is equally, if not more compelling. With silhouettes and design aesthetics spanning the freewheeling sixties to the British punk revolution, two-time, Academy Award-winning designer Jenna Bevan (“A Room with a View,” “Mad Max: Fury Road”) has created a fashion menage that is perhaps the best distillation of fashion in any film of the twentieth century .  Bevan was very adept at matching the right garment with the appropriate period, further enhanced by the musical choices in the film.

With nods to Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Zandra Rhodes, Galliano and other underground fashion designers of the British Punk era—actually McQueen and John Galliano are much later than that—Bevan gave the eye a kaleidoscope of what underground British punk fashion looked like 45 years ago married with the more traditional 70s and 80s fashion of Yves Saint Laurent, Nina Ricci, and Thierry Mugler.

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The Flame Dress

Purchased in a London vintage store, ‘the flame dress,’ is a wonderful example of art meets glamour. Though the garment is rendered from an original 1965 Baroness gown, Estella uses the gown to become Cruella as she presents herself as her alter ego at one of the Baroness’ gala events. This one-shoulder trumpet gown with petalled bottom makes a wild dramatic statement as the now Cruella reveals herself disrobing from her white capes.

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The Garbage Truck Dress

One of the most dramatic garments in “Cruella” is the awe-inspiring ‘Garbage Truck Dress.’ Cruella arrives at one of the Baroness’ many soirees on the back of a garbage truck donned in a gown made of tulle and distressed satin with a newspaper bodice. As exciting and underground as this garment was the most fascinating element was the 40-foot train that accompanied the gown that dragged down the street as Cruella took off on the back of a large garbage truck.

Fashion designers have been using newspaper and design elements in garments since the 1960s; however punk fashion devotees like Vivienne Westwood and Zandra Rhodes took this design aesthetic to a new level in the late 70s. Jenna Bevan borrowed heavily from Rhodes and Westwood, and it was well worth it.

Image courtesy of vanityfair.com

The Petal Dress

Cruella stole another red-carpet moment from the Baroness in a John Galliano-inspired red petal dress with military jacket that rocked metal epaulets, safety pins, chains, rosettes, and an absolutely massive, swoon-worthy organza skirt of reds, blacks, and purples comprised of over 5,000 hand-sewn flowers. Cruella capped this look off with Army combat boots, standing on the top of cab being photographed by paparazzi. You almost felt you were at a Dior/Galliano haute couture in smoggy London town.

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The Butterfly Dress

 One of the most beautiful gowns in the film is the gown Estella creates for the  Baroness, a gold beaded, strapless architectural gown with peplum-like bodice. This gown looks very similar to Alexander McQueen’s bee dresses from his spring 2013 collection. And in true Cruella fashion, the gown deconstructs and falls apart when the Baroness wears it to one of her many fabulous events.

—William S. Gooch

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