"Cruella" stars Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Paul Walter Hauser, Joel Fry, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, and Mark Strong. Released on May 28, 2021, the film is about a fashion designer who becomes a notorious criminal.
The film was directed by Craig Gillespie, who also directed films such as "Mr. Woodcock", "Lars and the Real Girl", "Million Dollar Arm", and "I, Tonya". It is based on Dodie Smith's 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians and Walt Disney's 1961 animated film One Hundred and One Dalmatians. It looks like Disney is attempting to capitalize on the success of "Joker" with another villain origin story. The people who grew up with Disney know that there's no villain who is more devilish and crueler than the one and only Cruella De Vil. Her wicked personality and her obsession with making clothes out of Dalmatian fur made her one of the best (and frightening) antagonists to ever been unleashed by the Mouse House. After being depicted as the villain in various versions of the "101 Dalmatians" lore, she's now the main lead in a live-action prequel that shows her rise to cruelty. You know, because kids love a person who skins dogs for fashion purposes. A live-action take of "101 Dalmatians" is nothing entirely new as Disney already made one in 1996, along with its sequel four years later, with Glenn Close as the antagonist. What is new is the studio going down the "Maleficent" route by representing the uprising of the famous baddie. It's nice to see the folks at Disney still coming up with some original stories based on their characters amid their multiple attempts to retell their animated classics in live-action. Well, most notably their villains so far, but hey, it's better than them making a live-action remake of Disney's "Pocahontas". Whether you agree with those ideas or not, it's easy to admit that films like Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" and "Christopher Robin" prove you can reintroduce our beloved Disney characters without recreating every scene of an animated film shot-by-shot. With that said, is this film fashionably delightful enough to belong in that category, or is it a fashion disaster? Let's find out.
The film is set during the punk rock movement in 1970s London. A young woman named Estella (Stone) is a talented yet rebellious fashion designer who spends most of her life as a thief with her comrades Jasper (Fry) and Horace (Hauser). She eventually lands a job working for Baroness von Hellman (Thompson), the wealthy head of a prestigious fashion house. When Estella noticed that the Baroness is wearing her late mother's necklace, she enlists the help of Jasper and Horace to steal it. Her journey of thievery and vengeance would eventually transform her into a wicked criminal known as Cruella de Vil. The film follows the same path as "Maleficent" as it explores the humble beginnings of a well-known Disney villain. Rather than showcasing the origins and then retelling the story from that character's perspective, "Cruella" takes the "Joker" approach by representing her path to wickedness before plotting on stealing Pongo and Perdita's puppies. Of course, it also took the method of inserting some sympathy and depth into the classic Disney villain. Now you may be thinking, "How the heck are they going to make us care for that puppy-murdering monster?" The answer is simple, my friends. By making an origin story that's described as a family-friendly version of "Joker" with a dash of "The Devil Wears Prada". While the execution onscreen was anything but a work of art, it managed to provide a sense of devilish charm and amusement in its well-made narrative. One of the main reasons for it was Craig Gillespie's direction. Gillespie took the style and flair that worked in his previous film, "I, Tonya", and decorated them onto "Cruella", resulting in a lavishing and slick dress that's worth wearing more than once. He never lost sight of delivering the fun and glamour of a crime comedy along with an acceptable origin tale about vengeance and female empowerment. There were a few moments where the emotional beats in its storytelling weren't as stunning as the title character's costumes and the film's themes. There's also a glaring issue with its runtime, which clocked in at a surprising two hours and 14 minutes. Despite its decent pacing, it can be a bit too overstuffed for the young viewers to handle. Other than that, the story had enough creativity and elegance to have its own identity while honoring the source material it's based on in the process. In addition to Gillespie's direction, the cast also did a fabulous job of making the film endearing. Emma Stone is the second actor to portray Cruella, following Glenn Close (who served as one of the film's executive producers) from the previous live-action adaptations of "101 Dalmatians". She had a lot of shoes to fill in terms of personifying this character. Fortunately, Stone was able to fill them with ease. Her performance as Cruella was undoubtedly remarkable as she instantly mastered the mannerisms and the charming snobbiness of the classic villain. She also wasn't afraid to add some empathy into her character amid the chaos she wrought onscreen. Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser were also extremely delightful in their roles as Jasper and Horace, respectively, especially the latter, who stole almost every scene he's in. I'm glad to see Hauser continuing to make himself known in the film business after his breakout performance in "Richard Jewell". Emma Thompson was very talented as always in her role as the Baroness, who plays a pivotal role in Estella's transformation. The Baroness is just as mean and vicious as Estella, if not more, and Thompson's commanding performance shows that the screen is big enough for two female devils. The only major thing that impressed me the most was the costume designs. I can also admit that the soundtrack and production design were pretty stellar regarding its timeline, but man, the costumes were a different story entirely. Fashion plays a big part in the film and Cruella's personality, which gave costume designer Jenny Beavan an opportunity to let her imagination run wild, and boy, did it ran wild. I don't think I need to be a fashion diva to tell you that the costumes in "Cruella" were dazzling, creative, and colorful, particularly the ones made for the title character. I'm already hoping that these designs get recognized at next year's Oscars.
Overall, "Cruella" proves that it's good to be the devil. Unfortunately, its execution might not work for everyone when it comes to its lack of strong emotion and runtime. Still, it's another Disney live-action effort that respectfully relies on inventiveness rather than following the similar beats of their animated counterpart. With its terrific cast, entertaining story, brilliant costumes, and Gillespie's stylish direction, the film is a wickedly fun experience with a strong passion for fashion.