'Cruella': The 'Impossibly Stylish' Set Design Had a 'Money Is No Object' Theme

When it isn’t reintroducing audiences to the galaxy far away, bringing Marvel comics to the big and small screens, or delighting families with a Pixar story, Disney’s made a killing with live-action reimaginings of its biggest animated properties. Cruella takes the infamous villain from 101 Dalmations and turns her into a punk rock antihero in a stylized eighties landscape.

To make the world a reality, they employed a legendary set designer to give the film its captivating style. 

What is ‘Cruella’?

Few villains resonated with audiences young and old the way that Cruella de Vil has since 101 Dalmations. A loose adaptation of a classic story, the original Disney movie made Cruella a loud, flamboyant, stylized villain. It was a far cry from the sorcerers, witches, and pirate lords of the previous fare. After all, Cruella’s evil was human evil without the need for magic and other trappings of the Disney universe. 

As such, turning her into something of a punk rock antihero took a little bit of gumption. Nobody wants to go to the movies to see a dog killer come out on top. However, Disney rolled the dice, brought in an A-Lister in Emma Stone, and asked I, Tanya director Craig Gillespie after his previous attempt at making a real-life villain, Tanya Harding, into a tragic figure garnered Oscar praise and box office receipts. 

Cruella explains its hero’s hatred for dalmatians by having a group of dogs kill her mother in the first scene. As a result, the film went viral right away. With movies reopening across the world, Variety notes that the movie premiered with a $2 million opening in China, while Forbes notes that it’s $27 million opening in the States marked a decent, albeit unspectacular return of the Hollywood blockbuster. Many people opt for digital purchase. However, the box office numbers may not be that dire. 

Making ‘Cruella’ pop

Despite some infamy going in, Cruella garnered decent reviews from fans and critics. However, when it came to capturing the world behind it, few had anything negative about the legendary Fiona Crombie’s lavish set design in recreating this fictitious version of the 1970s.

Coming off of her Oscar-nominated work on The Favourite, Crombie relished in getting to create such a unique landscape on the screen. While IMDb notes her previous work on Macbeth, Truth, Son of a Gun, Mary Magdalene, and The King, Cruella was her biggest project yet. 

With a London backdrop and one of the most iconic movements not only in music but fashion and social behavior, Crombie relished her opportunity to make the script a living, breathing landscape. 

“What I love about London is its history,” Crombie told Architectural Digest. “You have these beautiful derelict buildings and this new stuff coming up through it, which is absolutely what our story is as well, Crombie said, noting that her studies yielded some surprising beats as she drew in inspiration. “I was surprised by the grayness [of London’s character].”

Designing a world

Set designers often serve as character builders. After all, no one buys that someone in a barren city without any lived-in-charm would have the life Cruella has. As such, Crombie wanted to make sure that the sets were all believable to the overall vision. However, working with Disney had its perks. She explained how the deep budget allowed her to have absolute freedom to capture the era’s excess. 

“We went in thinking that ‘Ok if you’re a party planner in the 1970s and money is no object, what are you going to do?” Crombie told Architectural Digest about her work on the film. 

She succeeded. Now, she has another amazing work of art on her resume, with even the most negative reviews having something good to say about the sets. It shows what happens in the minds of people behind your favorite movies, as well as the importance of set design to an overall work. Crombie was already a legend of her craft, but Cruella may be her biggest work yet. As such, the best may still be yet to come as she further writes her story. 

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