Cruella – Emma Stone
Cruella is the story of Estella (Emma Stone). Ever since she was a young girl, Estella dreamed of working in the world of high fashion as a designer. Unfortunately, life had other plans and instead Estella finds herself grifting on the streets of London with her only friends Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser). Estella’s life later hits a turning point when she lands a legitimate job designing clothes for the infamous Baroness (Emma Thompson). But as she gets to know to her new employer better, Estella discovers more about the sinister depths people will succumb to for success which awakens her own villainous nature.
What works in Cruella is the truly inspired reimagining of the characters and story made popular in Disney’s 101 Dalmatians (1961). Stone puts a fascinating and sympathetic spin on Cruella that gives her a surprising amount of range to work with as she progresses from helpless to ruthless. The job of balancing this descent tonally falls mostly to Fry and especially Hauser who provide highly enjoyable comedic relief—somewhat reminiscent of the slapstick pratfalls of the animated films, but also grounded in this real-world adaptation. Finally, the narrative itself is wholly original. There are clear nods to the Disney film, but this prequel of sorts offers a welcome and fresh perspective that keeps the proceedings engaging.
The supporting elements of Cruella are net positive. First and foremost, the costume designs by two-time Academy Award winner Jenny Beavan are out of this world exceptional and will almost surely secure her an 11th Oscar nomination. Similarly, the production design by Fiona Crombie accurately captures the vibe of 1970s London in a way that makes Cruella pop with energy. The only intrusive factor is the music. Director Craig Gillsepie estimated that there are about four dozen songs in Cruella and this audible barrage of needle drops is more distracting than effective.
Families looking for something suitable for all audiences, or don’t appreciate over-the-top villains, may not enjoy Cruella as much as others. In a somewhat perplexing move, Cruella has a PG-13 rating for “some violence and thematic elements.” While perhaps a small spoiler, this does not refer to slaughtering puppies in any way. Instead, writers Dana Fox and Tony McNamara give the almost cartoonish antagonist some other truly horrific machinations which a) feel completely unnecessary because they, b) push what would otherwise be an all-age appropriate film out of bounds.
Cruella is a little infuriating. On the one hand, there’s a whole bunch of entertainment to be had particularly due to its style, humor, and a scene-chewing performance by Stone. On the other, Cruella can’t figure out if it wants to be family-friendly or edgier, making it difficult to ascertain the intended audience. Overall, it’s a fascinating experiment showing that new live-action entries in familiar Disney franchises can work, even if the recipe isn’t quite perfected yet.
Recommended if you enjoyed: The Devil Wears Prada, Zoolander, Maleficent