review by Bobby Blakey
In my opinion Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmations is easily one of the most evil characters in the Disney filmography. She was always horrifically perfect to look at but the fact she was all about killing dogs just cemented her badness. Back in 1996 Glenn Close brought the character to perfect life in the live action adaptation of 101 Dalmations. Now Disney is taking us back to her beginnings in Cruella with Emma Stone stepping into the role. Could this origin tale bring new depth to the Disney villain or will it fail to follow the right pattern?
Cruella follows the rebellious early days of one of cinemas most notorious – and notoriously fashionable – villains, the legendary Cruella de Vil. “Cruella,” which is set in 1970s London amidst the punk rock revolution, follows a young grifter named Estella, a clever and creative girl determined to make a name for herself with her designs. She befriends a pair of young thieves who appreciate her appetite for mischief, and together they are able to build a life for themselves on the London streets. One day, Estella’s flair for fashion catches the eye of the Baroness von Hellman, a fashion legend who is devastatingly chic and terrifyingly haute. But their relationship sets in motion a course of events and revelations that will cause Estella to embrace her wicked side and become the raucous, fashionable and revenge-bent Cruella.
As someone who is not a big Disney I had little to no interest in this film. I have always like the visual design of the animated version of the character and think she is one of the more evil looking ones they have ever had. That being said I kept my expectations low heading in and have to admit I enjoyed it quite a bit. It had a dark tone to it that reminded me of something out of a Tim Burton film but with I, Tonya director Craig Gillespie bringing his own flair to it. The look and feel not only fit the story for this character perfectly, but also reminded me of a lot of the way the city looked in the original animated feature.
The story is a mix bag of a heist flick, revenge flick, and origin story of not only Cruella but also her bumbling henchmen Horace and Jasper played to perfection by Joel Fry and one of my personal favorite actors Paul Walter Hauser. The three of them have great chemistry and it was fun seeing their
relationship come together and then go into some fun and dark directions. On the flip side you have Emma Thompson who is great as well and although she is playing the Baroness has a visual look that screams of the animated look of Cruella. Across the board they are all great but this is Emma Stone’s show and she looks to be having a blast chewing up the screen at every turn.
The story works well enough bringing all the elements together while firmly planted in a Devil Wears Prada style universe. While some might have an issue with this is makes total sense since to the future obsession with making a coat. Now if I was going to complain it comes in the direction the story goes in the final act in conjunction with the animated feature. There are so many times that it is heading perfectly to connect and does a great job at adding all kinds of nods to that, but then in attempt to be clever with its twists veers away from it to deliver something else. This is fine if they decide or have a plan to do a follow up similar to Maleficent to complete the transition to full on crazy person.
This will no doubt irritate some I think, but for me not being overly invested I actually dug where they went with it and felt it gave it some fun alternate history vibes. This is one of those movies that was not needed in any way, but one that I ended up enjoying quite a bit. It’s not evolving anything with the character really more so than what already exists other than allowing her crazy to shine through in a more likeable character with a sinister side that could easily fall over the edge at any time, which the animated film shows she clearly did.
Whether you are a Disney fan or not, I think its worth checking out for the fun crazed and fun performances from the cast. Decide for yourself and check out Cruella in theaters or Premier Access on Disney + now.