Director Craig Gillespie’s 101 Dalmatians prequel is very different from the story it sets up.
For one thing, the Emma Stone-starring Cruella doesn’t depict the chain-smoking, fur-loving Disney villain as a literal puppy killer. Instead, through a revolving door of haute couture fashion moments and relatable — if slightly unhinged — revenge plots, heroine “Estella” endears audiences with a fun origin story that’ll actually make you like the notorious dognapper. As Mashable’s Angie Han put it in her review, “Cruella is less interested in retracing old visions than dreaming up new ones, having a good time, and looking fabulous while doing it.”
Yes, it’s a page straight out of Maleficent, which wholly reimagined the origin story of the iconic Sleeping Beauty villain, spindle and all. But just because Cruella is different from the novel and its animated Disney adaptation from 1961 does not mean it ignores its spotted canine origins.
On the contrary, watch closely and you’ll see tons of 101 Dalmatians references in Cruella that not only make this adventure more enjoyable, but set up the possibility of a far more villainous sequel.
So, here are seven of the 101 Dalmatians Easter eggs from Cruella you might have missed.
1. Anita Darling
At the beginning of Cruella, we meet primary school-aged Estella and her classmate Anita Darling — a sweet girl with, as Cruella notes, an “absolutely fabulous name.” It’s a name Disney fans will probably recognize, considering Anita Darling is one of the main characters in the original story.
In the book, Anita Darling is the owner — or, as author Dodie Smith so cheekily put it, “pet” — of dog mom Perdita. Perdita births 15 pups at the start of 101 Dalmatians, but later becomes responsible for 99 when she and the Starlight Barking network help a herd of stolen pups to safety.
Canonically, Anita and Cruella are almost always classmates, who reconnect when Cruella begins abducting Dalmatian puppies. In Cruella, however, Anita comes back into Estella’s life as a reporter and photographer, played by Kirby Howell-Baptiste. It’s through Anita’s coverage at gossip rag Tattle Tale that the people of London come to know and eventually adore Cruella.
So Anita ends up serving as a kind of undercover PR arm for Cruella’s fashion empire. As a result, they’re more allies than enemies. For now, anyway.
2. Roger Radcliffe
Of course, wherever you find Anita Darling, you will also find her love interest Roger Radcliffe.
Most audience members will remember Roger as the down-on-his-luck songwriter responsible for the earworm song “Cruella De Vil.” In the original, he’s a pianist and the owner of Pongo, the father of those 15 Dalmatian puppies. You know: tall blonde guy with a green sweater vest.
In Cruella, however, Roger is just a musical hobbyist, working full-time as a lawyer for Baroness Von Hellman, Estella’s fashion nemesis played Emma Thompson.
Played by Kayvan Novak, Cruella‘s Roger has a significantly smaller role than Anita, and the lovebirds themselves never actually meet. But his characteristically delightful helplessness shines through in a few short scenes, particularly one in which he is fired by the Baroness and decides to pursue music as a career. Plus, some snarky dialogue from Estella really drives home the references: “I mean, after all, he’s Roger.”
3. Regent’s Park
Regent’s Park is a real place in northwest London, so Estella routinely visiting the park’s landmark fountain to talk to her dead mother isn’t specifically a 101 Dalmatians reference. However, that park is mainly famous because of 101 Dalmatians, so it might as well be considered a direct callout.
The particularly intriguing thing about the use of Regent’s Park in Cruella is the tragic parallel it draws to the original story. As you may recall, Regent’s Park is where Anita and Roger meet. An adorable scene involving some tangled leashes and a pond leave the pair soaking wet and very much on the road to romance.
For Estella, however, Regent’s Park becomes a place she visits to mourn a woman we come to appreciate as Estella’s one true, and ultimately lost, love. The silver lining, I suppose, is that this is also where she first meets Horace and Jasper, the iconic henchmen who become a kind of adopted family to the two-tone-haired villain in Cruella.
4. Cruella’s coupé de ville
With its hellish horn and perfectly wicked name, the iconic coupé de ville Cruella drives in the animated film was bound to appear in Gillespie’s prequel. But one special scene transforms the car’s appearance from a fun set piece to an especially layered 101 Dalmatians reference.
When Estella, Horace, and Jasper carry out their heist to steal back Estella’s mother’s necklace, they flee the premises by hot-wiring a town car. It’s, of course, a coupé de ville. Chance puts Cruella behind the wheel, and she begins tearing down London streets like a bat out of hell.
With her shoulders to her ears and a menacing glare on her face, Stone mirrors the exact image of Cruella pursuing Pongo and Perdita in the original finale sequence. When asked about her driving “style” by Jasper, Cruella understandably answers that she never learned to drive. I mean, her mom died well before she was of driving age. It’s sad, but also very clever.
5. Watching TV with Horace
Breakout dog stars Wink and Buddy spend a lot of their screen-time getting Jasper and Horace, played by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser, way in over their heads. The doggo-induced mayhem only increases when Cruella insists the pair abduct the Baroness’s three Dalmatians.
Once the dogs are back at the flat, Horace becomes responsible for tending to them. You’ll notice he soon takes to watching TV with all five dogs — a pastime reflected in one of 101 Dalmatians’ most iconic scenes. Remember, all 99 of the Dalmatian puppies in the animated film gather around Horace and Jasper to watch crime shows and old Westerns while waiting to be skinned.
If you’re reading this article having not seen the movie: Don’t worry. That’s not how things end here.
6. Hell Hall
The final act development of Cruella taking ownership of the Baroness’ home, Hellman Hall, is more than a karmic knife twist. In fact, the scene showing her taking the “man” off the mansion’s gate actually sets her up to live in the scary residence as it was first imagined in the book.
Hell Hall, as it is properly known, has a more detailed history than we see in Cruella — including a period of time when it was inhabited by a sadistic child murderer. Still, repurposing the setting, even in this small way, allows for a fun look into the villain’s future. Will she fill her new home with more fashionable, lavish parties or [gulp] puppy slaughter?
7. Perdita and Pongo
Last but not least, a mid-credits scene sets up the two main characters of 101 Dalmatians.
Although we meet Anita and Roger early in Cruella, they don’t have their dogs until the tail end, when Cruella inexplicably gifts them each puppies, named Perdita and Pongo. The pups, we learn, are the offspring of one of the Baroness’ dogs, Genghis, who Cruella opts to keep.
It’s a bit of a boop on the nose for a film that’s mostly more subtle than that, but it does set us up to see more of this newly spotted world. We get brief glimpses of Anita and Roger living right by Regent’s Park. But what exactly will turn Cruella from badass fashionista into the inhuman beast scene in the 101 Dalmatians? Only a sequel will tell.
Cruella is now in theaters and available for Premier Access subscribers on Disney+.