This article contains Cruella spoilers.
Would Emma Stone’s Cruella de Vil skin a dog? That’s the million-dollar question that still hangs over Disney’s demented but otherwise free-spirited Cruella. The movie almost devilishly asks audiences to sit with the idea every time Cruella glances over at her kidnapped Dalmatians. Her voiceover narration may insist that she doesn’t blame the pooches for her mother’s death—back when they were summoned by Emma Thompson’s Baroness to push mama off a cliff—yet Cruella also mentions to herself in the movie that they’d make excellent coats.
And at the end of the film, she sends two acquaintances the dogs who will become 101 Dalmatians’ Pongo and Perdita. So does Emma Stone’s Cruella have wicked things on her mind? Well…
The Cruella finale leaves things intentionally open-ended, but let’s consider the actual resolution of the picture. Throughout the film, Stone’s Estella struggles to be the woman that the mother who raised her, Catherine (Emily Beecham), wanted her to be: Kind, patient, and honest. Yet those virtues never get Estella very far, and in fact leaves her unfulfilled. Hence why she created the Cruella persona. Ostensibly, Cruella is meant to be an act. But the way Estella fidgets to hold in a grin when the Baroness, during a lunch, asks her if she has “the killer instinct” suggests she’s repressing who she really is. “Cruella” might initially be a performative creation intended to fool the Baroness, but in truth Estella is fooling herself. It’s why her epiphany that comes after learning the Baroness is her mother is so satisfying.
“I’m Cruella,” Stone’s character announces to the ghost of the woman who raised her. “Bold, brilliant, born bad, and a little mad.” She loves Catherine, the mother who raised her, but Cruella is realizing her true self. And that means accepting that she really is the Baroness’ daughter in nature, if not nurture. Hence instead of just trying to upstage the Baroness at fashion events, she winds up doing something at the end of Cruella as underhanded malicious as, well, the Baroness herself.
At the Baroness’ final big gala in her home estate, Cruella arrives dressed as the meek Estella. We of course know Estella is now the act. She attempts to reconcile with the Baroness, a would-be mother who tried to have her murdered at birth, while standing by the same cliffside where the Baroness killed Catherine. “Estella” of course knows this woman cannot resist the opportunity of pushing her own daughter to a watery grave. Like adoptive mother, like daughter.
And in some ways, that is exactly what happened. Estella is who Catherine wanted her to be, and Cruella is now the real woman using her biological mother to put that identity to permanent rest. She’s already seen how far the Baroness will go after the older woman tried to burn Cruella alive in her flat earlier in the movie. And back then, Cruella confronted her about Catherine’s death by saying, “You murdered my mother,” to which the Baroness confessed she couldn’t remember since she’s murdered so many people.
So Cruella obviously knows the Baroness won’t pass up the opportunity to push poor old Estella into the same sea when they meet again. Hence Cruella’s parachute hidden beneath her skirt and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) commanding a rowboat down below. It’s also why she arranged it so a score of witnesses would see Estella “die.”
Technically, Cruella didn’t kill anyone at the end of the movie, but she framed the Baroness for her murder, sending the fashion diva to a future that is purely prison garbed black-and-white. Obviously, the Baroness deserves this fate, but there’s something maliciously subversive about the protagonist of a Disney movie “winning” by framing her rival for a murder that never happened. The Baroness is of course a killer, and Cruella’s voiceover narration highlights that, but let’s just say this wouldn’t be the noble resolution sought by Cinderella against her wicked stepmother, or how Belle would’ve personally taken care of Gaston if given half the chance in Beauty and the Beast.
Admittedly, framing Catherine’s murderer for another death is a far cry from skinning puppies. However, we are witnessing Cruella in metamorphosis. When she first started calling herself Cruella, it was almost as a lark and about playing the press. However, even before the Baroness leaked to the press that Cruella is a dog killer, Stone’s character did entertain the idea of skinning the woman’s kidnapped Dalmatians who looked a lot like the dogs that physically killed her mother.
She also wore a Dalmatian-inspired cape during the punk rock rave across the street from the Baroness’ fashion show, which was definitely meant to scare the woman into thinking her dogs were dead. So the idea is clearly on Cruella’s mind. And at the end of the film, when her friends/increasingly alienated helpers ask Cruella what to do now that she’s stolen the Baroness’ title and wealth, Cruella says, “I have a few ideas.”
After that, we learn she’s sent Pongo and Perdita to their intended owners. Does this mean one of her ideas is to finally embrace the label of Dalmatian-skinner that the Baroness hung on Cruella in the press? Maybe.
The ending is, again, open-ended, but I like that it’s entirely plausible if there is no sequel that this Cruella could be or will soon plan some variation of the plot from 101 Dalmatians at Pongo and Perdita’s expense. Stone’s Cruella does proudly confess she’s “a little bit mad,” and a mad idea like this might have been floating in her brain ever since she saw Dalmatians push dear old Catherine to her death.
However, there is the possibility Disney will yet backtrack from this idea. In this film, Cruella is initially framed in the press as a woman who’s already cruel to animals, and while Cruella frames the Baroness for murder and has become increasingly short with her childhood friends, she is still inviting them into the renamed mansion, “Hell Hall.” And there she keeps on the valet (Mark Strong) who saved her life twice over, nodding to him with a sincere look of gratitude on her face.
A potential Cruella 2 could be about how Cruella is further framed into dognapping by the Baroness. Remember the Baroness is still alive when she’s being dragged to prison. And the evil woman howls that she’ll get revenge on Cruella one day. There could easily be another movie where the Baroness—Cruella’s biological mother who passed down all the same vanities—is the actual villain in the 101 Dalmatians plot. She’s already Cruella de Vil in everything but name and hairstyle, and she could don both while framing Stone’s character in a reimagined 101 Dalmatians.
But only if there’s a sequel will we ever know for sure. Until then, it’s really up to each viewer what those ominous rain clouds over Pongo’s new home mean in the film’s final shot. No matter how you interpret it, a storm is coming.