Just like his previous movie, I, Tonya, director Craig Gillespie’s new interpretation of Cruella and the 101 Dalmatians mythos treats its soundtrack almost like a character—a Greek chorus of sorts. The origin story of the designer villainess who first was introduced to the world in the classic One Hundred and One Dalmatians is peppered with a non-stop river of classic pop, rock, and punk anthems from the 1960s and ‘70s, quite fitting for the chaotic backdrop of London’s fast-changing fashion and music scene of that era.
Gillespie says that the way the soundtrack was used in I, Tonya was an element that Sean Bailey, Disney president of production, wanted to deploy in similar fashion for Cruella.
“When Sean pitched it to me, he talked about the tracks from I, Tonya and how they wanted to really embrace music with this,” Gillespie explains. “So I warned them up front that there was going to be a huge bill for this. We had 48 songs in I, Tonya. We had basically 50 songs in this.”
That’s the thing though. When you hear a song like the Rolling Stones’ “She’s A Rainbow” playing in the background during an early montage where Cruella (Emma Stone) and her cohorts executing heists, or the Zombies’ “Time of the Season” as the backdrop for her first day on the job at the high-end Liberty department store, it costs money. Lots of it. The bigger the act, and the more popular and recognizable the song, then the more the fee goes up.
That’s why, according to Gillespie, the way to get your money’s worth is all in the preparation and placement of the music.
“I learned a lot when I was doing I, Tonya,” he says. “It’s all in the prep. You really have to design the movie to support it. The camera and the way the camera moves in the scenes, it has to be designed around the music. So that’s all mapped out in advance. We know where there are going to be songs in the film. It’s like, ‘Okay, this is going to transition to a song here. We will have about 30, 40 seconds,’ and so forth.”
Gillespie reveals that as he ramps up to the actual shooting of the movie, he begins collecting songs that he can play on set to create the mood he wants—whether or not he eventually gets to use them or not.
“By the time we get to the set, I have hundreds of songs on my phone,” he says. “Songs that probably a music supervisor would never give me because it’s the Stones and the Doors and Queen, and they always try and stay away from those because of the price tags. But I just picked stuff with no parameters that I just felt could really support what was happening in the scenes.”
In one case, when Cruella’s nemesis/mentor Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson) first arrives at Liberty in all her cruel glory, Gillespie went with his instincts. “When she steps out of the car, the Baroness, for the first time, and you see everybody racing around and panicking, it’s such a [display of] power as she walks in,” he recalls. “So I just threw the Doors on it on the day. I wasn’t thinking of the Doors at all for the Baroness. We had all these ’50s and ’60s songs in mind. But it just was so foreboding and just felt like so ominous and just relentless, like there was no stopping her. That never changed.”
Indeed, the song in question, “Five to One,” (from the Doors’ 1968 album, Waiting for the Sun) is still the backdrop for the Baroness’s memorable entrance.
In the end, even with songs like Deep Purple’s version of “Hush” (used when Stone reveals her Cruella persona for the first time at the Baroness’ black and white ball) and the aforementioned tunes from the Stones, the Zombies and the Doors—not to mention a couple dozen more—did the bean counters at the Mouse House blink or waver when they saw the receipts?
“There were some conversations,” Gillespie admits. “But they’re amazingly supportive and it was more just trying to trim and cut where we could. But pretty much nearly everything that we presented ended up in the movie.”
Cruella is out now in theaters and via Premium Access on Disney+.