Cruella, which is set in 1970s London amidst the punk rock revolution, follows a young grifter named Estella (Emma Stone), a clever and creative girl determined to make a name for herself with her designs. She befriends a pair of young thieves named Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace Badun (Paul Walter Hauser) 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 Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), 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.
Out of all of the Disney animated films that are considered beloved classics today, one of my least favorites is 101 Dalmations. I do remember watching it as a youngling and getting enjoyment out of it, but honestly, I couldn’t tell you too many fond memories I have with it. I remember thinking that the story was fun and that the villainous Cruella de Vil was scary at such a young age, but all these years later, it’s failed to stick with me.
That’s probably why still to this day I haven’t checked out any of the sequels to 101 Dalmations. There are plenty of other Disney animated flicks from the old days that I love a whole lot more such as The Jungle Book, Cinderella, and Aladdin. But like I said above, even as a kid I found Cruella de Vil as a character to be super intriguing and she stood out like a sore thumb to me amidst the other typical Disney villains.
The stylish outfits she wears, that crazy black and white hair combination, that devilish grin, and the fact that she owns so many Dalmations really made me interested in her. She seemed like such a well-detailed character even if 101 Dalmations as a whole didn’t really appeal to me all that much.
But when I saw that Disney was making a brand new live-action origin story based on the character of Cruella de Vil starring Emma Stone, directed by wonderful filmmaker Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya, The Finest Hours) and with an allegedly darker tone than what we are used to from the House of Mouse, I got instantly excited.
I’ve seen a lot of people over the past few months say that the film looks corny and way too over-the-top and I can understand that. This film certainly has a distinct flair and style that isn’t going to be for everybody. But I am glad to report that Cruella was most certainly up my alley. Is it absolutely wild and ridiculous? Yes, it is. But it’s so wildly entertaining for so many reasons, and it tells such a zany and genuinely dark Disney story that I was able to get past a lot of its flaws.
We all know that Emma Stone is a wonderful actress by this point. She has proven time and time again that she is one of the most impressive actresses working today with roles in films such as La La Land, Birdman, and The Favorite just to name a few, and her performance as the titular anti-hero is nothing short of spectacular.
She literally feels born to portray this character. Stone perfectly embodies the crazy, fun-loving, and energetic spirit of Cruella de Vil and she really does make for the perfect anti-hero as well. Throughout the movie, Cruella does a whole lot of insane things that are frowned upon today and would land a lot of people either in jail. She isn’t always the best person but the reason why we ultimately root for her at the end of the day is because her motives are crystal clear and she feels so human.
You don’t necessarily agree with the ways she goes about trying to get the job done, but you do understand why she is doing what she is doing. Stone is able to show multiple different layers and emotions with so much ease.
In the first twenty minutes of the film, when we watch the tragic death of her mother, we instantly understand what she is about to do for the rest of the movie and we want her to succeed. Does she get a little bit out of hand later on? Yes, but even still, we can root for her because her heart’s in a good place.
Cruella de Vil is not the type of character that Disney usually makes as a protagonist. Most Disney movie protagonists are princesses that are picture-perfect in most ways and usually serve as excellent role models for young kids such as Anna and Elsa from Frozen or Princess Jasmine from Aladdin for example.
But this wacky-dressed dog owner is not exactly the perfect role model for kids. She is a thief, she commits acts of vandalism, and she goes about things in wrong ways but what makes her so endearing is that she is, ultimately, following her heart. And because her mission is clear and very understandable, we love her.
Because this film is absolutely studded with brilliantly beautiful costume designs, I have to give huge props to the costume department that worked on everything on screen here. I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult and painstaking it must have been to bring all of these outlandish and bold costumes to life on the big screen, but nevertheless, this team did it and they pulled it off effortlessly. Whenever Stone’s de Vil or the wonderfully eerie and hilarious Baroness portrayed by Emma Thompson don an outfit, it looks absolutely marvelous.
Something else that looks truly marvelous here is the cinematography by Nicolas Karakatsanis. The framing, locations, and overall style of Cruella is incredibly unique and unlike any live-action Disney movie to date. It’s beautiful, grim, and vibrant in all the best ways. It also helps that the soundtrack to the film is an absolute treat to listen to as well, even if the songs quite literally never stop coming at you full force.
At times, Cruella can suffer from some slow-pacing too. There are a few scenes that ultimately feel like they could be removed entirely and the overall story would have had the same impact and nothing really would have been different. The film runs at a total length of one-hundred-and-thirty-four minutes which is remarkably long for a Disney feature, and it does suffer from that. If twenty minutes or so were shaved off the runtime, things would have flowed significantly smoother.
And yes, sadly, the film can have a couple of scenes with mindless exposition where instead, it would have been nice had there been some more visual storytelling on display instead of just word vomit, but I can’t complain too much since the majority of the film managed to be a wonderful display of visual storytelling.
I honestly haven’t had this much fun watching a live-action Disney film since the 2019 Aladdin film, which yes, I did enjoy believe it or not. Cruella is not groundbreaking cinema or anything, but it is a wonderful film and one of the most outlandishly entertaining of the year so far. I can’t necessarily say it’s perfect for families because of some of the truly dark subject matter, but if you are an adult have kids that are maybe twelve and up, I think you’re all going to have a blast with this one.
Overall Grade: B+
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some violence and thematic elements
Directed by: Craig Gillespie
Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Release Date: May 28, 2021
Running Time: 134 minutes