To misquote Bananarama it’s a Cruella, Cruella summer. (My review is here.)
First of all let’s start at the end. There is a mid-credits scene which sees Cruella (for she is Estella no longer) have two dalmatian puppies delivered: they are the offspring of one of the dogs she kidnapped from the Baroness after one swallowed the hideous heirloom necklace.
One puppy she sends to her childhood friend Anita Darling, and the other to Roger, the lawyer the Baroness fired for being unable to stop Cruella. The dogs are named Pongo and Perdita, the same names as the parent dalmatians in the book. Roger plays the piano, singing a song he has written called Cruella De Vil. Thunder crashes…
So clearly this isn’t a straight prequel to the Glenn Close film, as the timings for these dogs having their puppies don’t add up — unless, as I said in my review, older Cruella was actually only in her 30s. Really this is a fanciful, fun “what if?” movie rather than one designed to exactly line up with the previous (but later-set) film.
But let’s go back to the middle, as Estella starts her transformation into Cruella. Can she beat the Baroness without turning into her?
Estella, working for the Baroness, sees her boss wearing the heirloom necklace that belonged to Estella’s mother Catherine. She asks where the Baroness got it and is told a past employee had stolen it from her but she’d got it back. Estella resolves to steal it back herself at the Baroness’s upcoming Black And White Ball, and enlists Horace and Jasper to help.
She appears at the ball in a long white cloak which she burns off to reveal a scarlet evening dress (one of the Baroness’s old designs).
Jasper and Horace are dressed as exteminators, and their little dog Wink as a rat. Wink causes chaos, but their plan to take the necklace from its safe is thwarted when Estella sees the baroness is wearing it. In the melee Estella snatches it, but one of the Baroness’s dalmatians eats it. Later Horace and Jasper kidnap the Baroness’s dogs to await the necklace’s inevitable reappearance at the other end.
When Estella hears the Baroness whistling for her dogs, she also realises the Baroness did the same thing the night Catherine died; she’d deliberately summoned the dogs to attack Catherine and push her off the cliff.
Estella continues to appear at fashion events, stealing the Baroness’s thunder and limelight.
The film’s big reveal is that the Baroness is Estella’s mother. When Estella was born she wanted her daughter killed, but John the valet gave the baby to her employee Catherine who instead brought Estella up as her own.
Estella discovers this quite late in the film. The Baroness has worked out that Estella and Cruella are one and the same person. After Estella sabotages the Baroness’s all-important Spring Collection (the garments are found in their secure storage infested with bugs) she then holds her own fashion show outside, dancing down a catwalk in a black and white dalmatian-like outfit. When she returns to the attic she shares with Jasper and Horace she finds the Baroness there, who has the two men tied up.
The Baroness sets fire to the building and leaves. Estella tries to free herself but can’t, and later wakes up to find she has been rescued by John, who also found the heirloom necklace in the fire.
He shows her a hidden key inside it, and gives her the locked box that it opens. Inside is proof she is the Baroness’s daughter. She also discovers that when the Baron heard what had happened he wasted away and died — Estella is actually his rightful heir and now owns the Baroness’s huge country house.
Cruella goes to the London fountain where she has long felt closest to her mum. She tells Catherine she was never Estella and never fitted in: “Born brilliant, born bad, and a little bit mad”.
She then frees Jasper and Horace from prison using Wink the dog, and apologises to them.
Estella plots her revenge on the Baroness for killing Catherine, even though Jasper warns her that her pain will not go away if she kills her nemesis.
She sends gorgeous dresses to guests attending the Baroness’s upcoming charity gala, allegedly from the Baroness herself. At the gala the Baroness walks into a sea of Cruellas, all the women wearing the dresses Cruella sent them. Cruella changes back into Estella, and waits for the Baroness on the cliff.
Cruella greets the Baroness with “hello Mother,” and explains she’s there to evict her. The Baroness appears contrite, and walks towards her as if to hug her. “You’re not going to push me off the cliff are you?” asks Estella, and the Baroness does exactly that, then discovers all her guests have been asked to come outside and have witnessed the whole scene. She tries to claim Estella jumped but no one believes her.
After falling off the cliff and apparently dying, a funeral is held for Estella, and the Baroness is arrested.
Estella is not dead though. She’d designed a skirt that turned into a parachute, gliding down to safety.
After her “death” it transpires Estella has left her entire fortune to Cruella De Vil, including Hell House which she now moves into.
And that picture with Cruella dancing down a catwalk wearing a dalmatian-like outfit? It’s fake fur, not dog fur. No dogs were harmed in the fictitious storyline of this movie…