Cruella de Vil is best known for wearing Dalmatian fur, not Italian designer apparel, but that hasn’t stopped critics from noticing how much Disney’s villain origin story Cruella has in common with the 2006 comedy The Devil Wears Prada. One of the chief sources of déjà vu in the new movie is the character of Baroness von Hellman, played by Emma Thompson, who seems to owe more than a little to Miranda Priestly, the role Meryl Streep made famous in Prada. The evidence goes beyond the circumstantial: The screenwriter who helped give the world Priestly, Aline Brosh McKenna, was hired to write an early draft of Cruella and received story credit on the finished film. So just how Devil Wears Prada is Cruella? Gird your loins for the following breakdown.
The Baroness and the Editrix
Though Cruella de Vil is canonically a diva on the order of a Miranda Priestly, Cruella is an origin story with the titular character, played by Emma Stone, as its protagonist, and like it or not, Disney decided that meant she needed an antagonist. A petty criminal in 1970s London who loves designing costumes for the scams she undertakes with her friends Jasper and Horace, Cruella—née Estella—goes to work at a department store early on in the film. Enter Thompson’s Baroness, the head of a fashion label who notices Estella’s talent and hires her as a designer. Priestly was the editor of a fashion magazine in 2000s Manhattan, and the Baroness is similarly a woman of a certain age at the helm of a fashion company, as well as a textbook bad boss who inspires fear in everyone she encounters. Both are imperious, impossible-to-please tyrants prone to belittling and borderline physically abusing their employees and everyone around them. Both movies even introduce their characters in similar ways—in Prada, Priestly throws the Runway magazine offices into a tizzy when she unexpectedly arrives early to work one morning, and in Cruella, the Baroness throws the Liberty department store into a tizzy when she arrives unannounced. Even more specifically, the first thing you see of both characters is their high-heeled feet stepping out of cars.
The Baroness and Miranda Priestly both have a penchant for withering put-downs. Some of the new movie’s lines in this vein feel very reminiscent of Priestly’s, such as when the Baroness asks, “Why am I the only one who’s competent?” or barks to Estella, “Grubby girl, get me lunch!” However, though amusing, none of the Baroness’ lines quite reach the heights of a “Florals, for spring? Groundbreaking.”
Though the promise of the movie is her transformation into a villain, at the beginning of Cruella, Emma Stone’s character isn’t such a far cry from Anne Hathaway’s Andy, the naïve aspiring journalist who goes to work for Runway magazine in The Devil Wears Prada. The circumstances of their hiring are similar: Just as Miranda hires Andy to the disbelief of other staffers at the magazine who find her completely unsuitable, the Baroness hires Estella even though the department store where she discovers her has shunted her to the role of cleaning woman. (In both cases, these hirings soften the villains ever so slightly.) Though it’s a bigger plot element in Prada, both Andy and Estella have competitive relationships with their bosses’ (other) assistants: Andy competes with first assistant Emily, and at one point we see the Baroness’ assistant, Jeffrey, get jealous of Estella. While Estella is less initially mousy and uninterested in fashion than Andy, Andy and Estella both share a certain physical awkwardness at the beginning of their stories, but eventually are transformed via the power of makeover: Andy becomes a chic-er version of herself, while Estella, of course, becomes you-know-who. Both women’s personal relationships are affected by their new jobs, as Andy’s friends and boyfriend complain that she’s changed and is too obsessed with work, and Estella’s fellow criminals Horace and Jasper complain about how bossy she gets on her way to becoming a villain.
The Baroness’ Dalmatians serve a much more important role in Cruella than any dogs do in Prada, but it seems noteworthy that Miranda Priestly, too, is the owner of a large, menacing pet, a St. Bernard named Patricia that in the movie can briefly be seen dragging Andy around.
Miranda Priestly’s closest confidant at work is her art director Nigel, played by the divine Stanley Tucci. So it should not escape any good Prada-head’s notice that the Baroness also has her own inner-circle baldie in the form of her valet, John, played by Mark Strong. Tucci and Strong look a lot alike and have occasionally been mistaken for each other, but Nigel is more humorous than John, who is more of the strong, silent type—and, spoiler alert, ultimately more loyal, too.
Galas and Fountains
No fashion movie worth its salt would be complete without some scenes involving galas, and Cruella and Prada both check that box several times over—Andy helps memorize names so her boss will recognize everyone at one gala in Prada, and one of the new movie’s most memorable scenes is set at a gala where everyone in attendance comes dressed as Cruella. It is less of a requirement that a fashion movie have a key scene involving fountains, but again, both do: Cruella first meets Horace and Jasper at a fountain, and upon learning of an important revelation involving her identity, she visits a fountain to reflect (and monologue). Meanwhile, in what is arguably the climax of Prada, Andy throws her cellphone into a fountain in Paris.
Good and Evil
Back to that climax: In Prada, it occurs after Miranda tells Andy that she sees a lot of herself in her, and that if she wants a life like hers, looking out for No. 1 is necessary. Andy, who has just watched Miranda betray a friend, protests, which eventually leads to the aforementioned throwing of the phone into a fountain. In Cruella’s parallel scene, when the Baroness preaches cultivating a killer instinct, Estella is of course more amenable to this message. Hence, Andy goes on to become a truth-seeking, serious-minded journalist, and Estella goes onto the presumably much more remunerative life of becoming Cruella de Vil.