Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Cruella follows Emma Stone as Estella, a street smart grifter with dreams of making a name for herself in the fashion world. Her journey sees her befriend familiar thieves who are always looking for the angle. The trio build a life together in 1970s London until Estella’s fashion sense piques the attention of fashion icon Baroness von Hellman. Their meeting sets Estella on a path that will lead her to become the villainous Cruella we all know.
Despite being produced by Glenn Close, this is not strictly a retelling of 101 Dalmatians, rather, it’s more akin to Dalmatians Begins, providing the backstory for how Estella became Cruella. As far as I can tell, it’s also not canon to any features that preceded it, to include the original animated film and it takes liberties with that fact and for the most part, it works.
The cast is appropriately charming. The montage towards the beginning of the film does a good job setting up the relationships between Estella, Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser). The band of small time thieves is set against the backdrop of London’s 1970s punk rock revolution, which, as fashion features heavily in the film, works perfectly.
Emma Thompson, does a good impression of Meryl Streep in what comes off as a version of de Vil Wears Prada. If you’ve ever seen the Devil Wears Prada, you’d have to try very hard to not call to mind the relationship between Andrea and Miranda. That said, it still works, given where the story goes.
The music elicited head nods with almost every needle drop. From Blondie to Nina Simone to The Doors, Queen, and more, the film caused me to hum along to multiple frantic scenes accompanied by bangers from any of the aforementioned artists.
The design of the film is probably what will stick with me the most. The clothes are gorgeous and they’re staged well. Jenny Beavan deserves a shout out (and likely an Oscar) for her work to be called out for knocking it out of the park with the fashion of this movie.
What didn’t work
I have one gripe with this film that blossoms into multiple questions. It’s too damned long. At 134 minutes, it’s relatively easy to see what could have been cropped for a more streamlined runtime. It made me wonder who this film was for. At that length, it’s not for kids (mine darted from the room before the 30 minute mark).
If it’s not for kids, I can only assume it’s for any adult that’s grown up with the source material and if that’s the case, who asked for this film. Taking a page from 2014’s Maleficent, Cruella imbues de Vil with a tragic back story because…they did it in 2014 and made half a billion dollars? It’s one thing to fill in the backstory of a character, but did we really need to know that she wasn’t really that bad to begin with? That she was fully justified in wanting to skin Pongo, Perdita, et al., for their fur (if that’s what ends up happening) down the road?
At the end of the day, it’s hard not to feel like stripping away her evil, they didn’t know what made her appealing to begin with, which is exactly how I felt about Maleficent. Every villain doesn’t need a tragic backstory. Part of the allure with some of them is the fact that they are pure evil.
Is it worth your time?
Cruella is overly long, but it is fun at times. If you’ve been craving a story where Cruella isn’t as bad as you thought she was, then this is the movie for you. Just don’t ask broader questions about where this is going or why Disney is taking the fangs out of their badass villains.
Cruella premieres on Disney+ and in theaters on Friday, May 28.