In previous Disney films, whether animations or live action, Cruella de Vil is very much a one-dimension character, the embodiment of evil who catches Dalmation dogs for their fur. The 2021 movie "Cruella" looks at the origins of the character and essentially reinvents Cruella de Vil. Although the teenage Estella (not yet called Cruella) is naughty and rebellious, she is sympathetic character who in the course of the film discovers the truth about her parents and realises her ambition as a fashion designer. Of course we also find out about her relationship to Dalmations. It's a fun and engaging comedy starring Emma Stone in the central role, with her sidekicks Jasper and Horace played by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser respectively (and clearly modelled on their animated counterparts) and with Emma Thomson as the evil Baroness. The film features an engaging collection of songs with the title song "Call Me Cruella" written and performed by Florence and the Machine, and an equally engaging film score composed by Nicholas Britell.
Nicholas Britell has recently made an impression scoring the Television Series "Succession" with Brian Cox as a Media Baron, but until now has been better known for his film work. He had been scoring films including several short films, until his work on Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave" supporting the film's composer Hans Zimmer by writing and arranging many of the spirituals and work songs used on screen. He went on to secure two Oscar nominations for his scores to "Moonlight" and "If Beale Street Could Talk" both for director Barry Jenkins. He has also worked with Natalie Portman on "A Tale of Love and Darkness" and Adam McKay on "The Big Short" and "Vice". The scoring job for "Cruella" would seem to cement Britell's grasp of the comedy drama genre. His musical approach to "Cruella" is essentially to score it for rock band mixing nicely not just with the song tracks but also with on-screen pop culture references. He allows plenty of space for the larger than life character performances, but when required provides dramatic and emotional support using orchestral forces to augment the rock band.
The album kicks off with the song "Call Me Cruella" by Florence and the Machine. This is followed immediately by "Cruella - Disney Castle Logo" which gives just a tiny taste of what will be the score's main theme sprinkled with some Disney magic. But before that main theme is fully established "The Baroque Ball" introduces a secondary waltz theme with a wordless "la-la" female voice supported by guitar and strings. The voice might be intended to represent Cruella's herself, or at least her blasé attitude to life. "The Most Dreadful Accident" is a short ambient track which is suitably ominous, before "The Drive to London" gives another airing of the Cruella theme using a nice blend of guitar and cello. The next few tracks establish the key facts and players in the story, scored partly with Cruella theme variants or occasionally something completely different. For example "I Think You're Something" repeats the jazzy vibe of "The Baroness Needs Looks" with more wordless voices in scat form, like some latter-day Pringle Singers.
The next few tracks illustrate the spectrum of Britell's melodic conception, ranging from the purely ambient though subtle and not-so-subtle hints of the Curella theme or its chordal accompaniment up to occasional full statements of the theme. The track "The Angle" illustrates some of this expressive range, starting with piano arpeggios of the theme accompaniment, and then joined by guitar with the theme. Then "Surveillence" starts with a rhythmic bass, joined by guitar arpeggios and then drum kit and lead guitar. Meanwhile the soundscape can also vary from ambient prog rock to heavy rock band, and then throwing in Orchestral support from a string section. Apart from a few diversions early in the score, it sticks faithfully to this established spectrum. It is quite a small melodic palette but Britell gets a lot of mileage from it. The theme's chords lurk in a lot of the score creating a powerful presence, and a propulsive movement when required. But with constant variations in the scoring, this basic pattern doesn't seem to grow stale.
"Oh, That's a Hybrid" starts as in pure ambient mode, before joined by simple percussion like an indie band starting off a new song. Then there's a few guitar riffs before we hear the Cruella theme accompaniment and some nice little guitar bends before we become aware of a growing string chord bringing the cue to a close. A lovely track which neatly illustrates the score's approach. Towards the end we get plenty of character revelations, and some of the minor thematic threads also start to fall into place. "I'm Cruella" starts on the main theme accompaniment with powerful strings, joined by another pleasing blend of solo cello and piano. It seems to embody the score's soul as an orchestral presence grows with just a smidgen of bass guitar. It's partner track is surely "Goodbye, Estella" which returns to the guitar arpeggio accompaniment, joined by lead guitar (and bass) with wordless voice, before we get some rock riffs perhaps symbolically underlining the character's new-found freedom.
In summary this is a very satisfying score both in the movie itself and as a stand-alone listen. The score is available for download at: Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. There is also an album for the Songs used in the movie at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.