Cruella has been pitched as a movie that rewinds the clock on the infamous One Hundred and One Dalmatians villain, giving audiences a more in-depth look at the origins of Cruella de Vil. But, more importantly, for fans of a certain pair of Disney henchmen, it also provides a little more background on Jasper and Horace. In shining a light on these two men, it reveals that they are not only underappreciated as characters but misunderstood as people. In fact, they are eminently eligible bachelors, as deserving of love as any other young Londoners. In other words, the movie marks a crucial rise in visibility for henchmen everywhere—that is, until it throws them to the dogs.
Some background. In this version of the story, Cruella, Jasper, and Horace have been friends since childhood, getting by on their street smarts and the strength of their friendship. They seem to be a loving and supporting family unit, the kind whose generosity extends to inviting another orphan (in this case, the young Cruella) into their petty crime ring. Later, Jasper, in particular, proves his selflessness once again, by managing to forge an application that will get Cruella the straight-and-narrow job she desires, even though, he realizes, that could mean that their gang might lose a pivotal member. So far, so good, for this duo’s admirers.
However, as Cruella becomes more and more focused in her attempts to bring down the Baroness, she begins to take her two old pals for granted. Her increasingly mean, downright exploitative behavior isn’t exactly unexpected, given how it tracks with how tyrannical we know Cruella will become when she’s older. But it’s a little harder to stomach than in the previous movies adapted from Dodie Smith’s Dalmatians novels, for a few reasons. First, Cruella has taken the trouble of retconning Jasper and Horace into her bosom buddies rather than hired hands, so they haven’t exactly entered into this contract willingly. Second, we’ve spent most of the movie being nudged to care about these characters, with Jasper positioned almost as a romantic interest and Horace providing the comic relief. They’re no longer thugs who harbor the same vicious streak as their boss. Rather, they’re a couple of sweeties just trying to keep up with their friend, making the way this plot thread is resolved—with Cruella offering an apology and then essentially going right back to bossing them around—feel particularly unsatisfying.
Making it even more painful to watch the pair get short-changed is this fact: Jasper and Horace are hot now. Depending on who you ask, the argument can be made that they’ve always been hot. Their cartoon versions are pleasantly angular, sporting thick eyebrows and winningly color-coordinated ensembles, and in the live-action movies, they’re played by Hugh Laurie and Mark Williams, best known for playing a sexy doctor and the sweetest wizard in the world, respectively. Now, they’re played by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser, who both make good cases for themselves as highly crushable. Fry’s Jasper is the sensitive one, well-attuned to Cruella’s feelings as well as Horace’s, and willing to step up to tell Cruella that she’s being inconsiderate instead of stewing on it and growing resentful. Walter Hauser, thus far most recognized for playing unpleasant cronies and hapless losers, takes on a more himbo-esque role here, and ups his appeal by adding his own sidekick, Wink, a chihuahua who wears an eyepatch and, at a key point in the film, dons a rat costume that is adorable beyond words.
Their glow-up is in accordance with the movie’s larger project of taking characters we know as puppy-stealing villains and endeavoring to make them more palatable, and, despite how nice it is to now ponder building a life with either henchman, it ultimately backfires. In the same way that the viewer is left wishing that the film would go all the way toward delivering on its promise of showing how Cruella became a villain (even if I have no appetite for watching violence against animals), it’s also unsatisfying to watch Jasper and Horace achieve only partial vindication. While the seeds have been planted for Cruella to turn bad, there isn’t really a similar blueprint laid for her friends beyond a possible case of Stockholm syndrome, given how long they’ve known Cruella. But they—in this version of the story, and also frankly in every other—deserve better. Maybe that means they should simply refuse to lie down, maybe it means that they should unite in collective bargaining, but either way, if this movie gets a sequel, or yet another reboot, I want no more half measures.