Why Does Every Cartoon Villain Need a Gritty “Joker”-Style Origin Story?

The "Cruella" trailer is here, and no, it's not a joke

Emma Stone in Disney's "Cruella"
Emma Stone in "Cruella"

Disney has finally dropped the trailer for Cruella, its live-action 101 Dalmatians prequel, and it’s a little hard to believe it’s a real movie and not a Saturday Night Live sketch. (Seriously, why would anyone attempt to make another gritty cartoon villain origin story after the show completely eviscerated the genre with Grouch?)

Cruella features Emma Stone as the titular puppy-hunting villainess in 1970s London, where — before she’s fully consumed by her desire to skin a bunch of Dalmatians and turn them into a coat — she’s an aspiring punk designer and grifter looking to gain the attention of high-society types with her designs. Somewhere along the way, madness creeps in, and she becomes the iconic Cruella de Vil.

The over-the-top trailer calls to mind Joaquin Phoenix’s dark turn in Todd Phillips’s Joker, and as soon as it was released, it had many people questioning just how many sympathetic villain origin stories we really need. What’s next, a look at Ursula’s early days as a misunderstood, outcast sea witch?

Of course, it’s unfair to judge a movie based entirely on its trailer, but Cruella appears to be proof that not every villain needs an elaborate backstory. Cruella de Vil doesn’t require nuance; she wants to kill 101 puppies and turn them into a fur coat. It isn’t more complicated than that! In fact, trying to explain why Cruella is the way she is diminishes the delightful campiness of one of Disney’s funniest baddies. Sure, she’s one-dimensional, but she’s a lot less enjoyable to watch when we’re forced to ponder whatever combination of social pressures and mental illness is motivating her to commit canine genocide.

Cruella is currently slated to be released in theaters on May 28, though its release could be moved to Disney Plus depending on the state of the pandemic. Check out the trailer below.

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