Disney is always looking for new ideas, and when they find one that is quite successful they usually like to explore it even further. One of their most successful ideas must have been the Disney princesses like Ariel, Jasmine and many more. Recently, Disney tried something different, which was apparently also a success, by making movies about the origin story of famous Disney villains. The first one was Maleficent with Angelina Jolie portraying the iconic witch from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. That was successful enough to justify a sequel Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, and now it is time to learn more about the evil fashion designer Cruella de Vil from the 101 Dalmatians movie from the ‘60s. Her story is being told in the brand new movie Cruella, which can be viewed in movie theaters or on Disney+ if you are paying for their very expensive VIP subscription tier.
It is always interesting to see who writes the music for a Disney film, and when I saw that the assignment was given to Nicholas Britell I was quite intrigued. Britell is a composer I have heard so much about but for some reason I have never gotten around to listening to his music for movies like Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk, for both of which he received Oscar nominations. After listening to a couple of tracks from Cruella, I knew this review would be quite interesting to do.
To explain the music and the themes, we need to talk about the Cruella character first. Since she is introduced in 101 Dalmatians, which is a book from 1956 that has been adapted for the famous Disney animation in 1961, it is not really a spoiler that she is a villain. But, Disney being Disney, they wanted to give Cruella – played brilliantly by Emma Stone – more personality as well as to show that there is a reason for her doing bad things and that there is some good in her. Like Cruella’s hair, there is a black and a white side to her personality. The white and good side is portrayed by her real name Estella, someone who tries to be a good person, which is reflected in her theme that is introduced right at the beginning of the movie in “Cruella – Disney Castle Logo.” The melody is a pattern of three times two notes: a high one, followed by a lower one, before the pattern gets repeated a musical line is used as a filler. The track is surprisingly not orchestral – which I would have expected from a Disney movie. The melody uses bell-like sounds supported by guitars and some strings. It is a gorgeous and elegant theme and very memorable.
The theme for the alter-ego Cruella, the black and dark side of the main character, is, as expected, darker and sinister-sounding with a repeating pattern of three ascending notes. It can be heard very well in “The Necklace,” performed on the piano with the support of guitars and strings. The melody of the theme can also be heard in the song for the movie “Call me Cruella,” performed by Florence + The Machine.
With the two main themes established, it is time to look at “The Angle,” because that is arguably the most important track on the album. It starts with a beautiful version of the Cruella theme on the piano before a single guitar joins in to play the Estella theme perfectly in sync with the Cruella theme, blending them together perfectly. These kinds of musical tricks always blow my mind. It is a magnificent way of telling the story with music: Estella and Cruella, while being different, are still the same person.
Many of the tracks on the album have one of the two themes brilliantly integrated. Each time you hear the melody of a theme, it never sounds the same, and I love the fact that most of the time it is played on a single instrument like the guitar or the piano, instead of being part of an orchestral piece. Sometimes Britell strays even further from standard orchestral Disney music by transforming themes into a rock version as he has done for both themes in “Surveillance.”
Next to the Cruella and Estella themes, there is one recurring theme that needs mentioning, and that is the wonderfully playful music that can be heard in “The Baroness Needs Looks” and “I Think You’re Something.” In the first track, the jazzy melody is performed on the piano and in the second one it is fully performed by voices, with the support of a drum kit. It is a happy uplifting melody that is best linked to the baroness, which is the antagonist of the movie. Another superb version of the melody can be heard in “Oh, That’s a Hybrid” as a foundation for the Estella theme, linking both themes together as well.
There is one track on the album, which, as far as I can hear, is not linked to any of the themes, and that is “The Baroque Ball.” The music in it is a wonderful waltz, with most of the melodies done by female voices with support of a couple of guitars, piano and a bass guitar, and it is definitely one of the highlights on the album.
After my first listen to the music, what came to my mind was that it was well done, but too repetitive. I already linked both themes for Estella and Cruella together as one in my brain. After listening to the music more thoroughly and discovering all the variations and implementations of the themes, I had to keep listening and hear all the brilliant little things Nicholas Britell has done with the music. Not only is the film music excellent, but I also love the fact that it is written for a Disney production. It fits perfectly with the style of the movie itself and it shows you do not always need a melodic orchestral score to support a fairy tale. I really need to explore the other scores that Britell has written.
Listen or buy
The highlights are in bold.
- Call me Cruella (Performed by Florence + The Machine) (2:07)
- Cruella – Disney Castle Logo (0:45)
- The Baroque Ball (2:01)
- The Most Dreadful Accident (1:18)
- The Drive to London (1:36)
- Red Hair Dye (0:24)
- The Baroness Needs Looks (1:08)
- I Think You’re Something (2:10)
- Everything’s Going So Well (0:41)
- The Necklace (1:33)
- The Angle (1:10)
- Surveillance (1:44)
- I Like to Make an Impact (1:52)
- Oh, That’s a Hybrid (1:43)
- Revenge / Let’s Begin (3:38)
- Putting the Dresses in the Safe (0:42)
- Get It Open / Moths (1:50)
- Oh, That’s Why You’re Peeved (2:47)
- The True Story of Cruella’s Birth (1:55)
- I’m Cruella (4:21)
- A Great Tribute / She’s Here (3:45)
- The Cliff (4:33)
- She Jumped! (0:50)
- Goodbye, Estella (1:51)
- Call me Cruella (Instrumental Version) (2:06)
- Orchestral Waltz (Bonus Track) (2:09)
Total length: 50 minutes
Walt Disney Records (2021)