Brilliant, bad, and a little bit mad. We’re finally getting to see how one of Disney’s most memorable villains came to be. Since its release at the end of May, the latest of the live action villain origin stories has received mixed reviews. Here’s what we thought of the delightfully dark and yet comedic antics in the new Cruella movie.
Cruella transports us to London in the 70s, and deposits us right in the middle of its fashion scene, where a struggling Cruella De Vil – still called Estella, then – is trying to get by, engaging in petty crime with her two accomplices Jasper and Horace ( familiar names if you’ve seen previous 101 Dalmatians films). Through some trickery and a bit of luck, Estella finds herself working in one of London’s most prestigious fashion houses, under the employ of the narcissistic and extravagant Baroness (Emma Thompson). And so, this dark and Disneyfied version of the Devil Wears Prada really begins, and Cruella, herself a skilled fashion designer, is really born.
To avoid beating around the bush, let’s start by saying that the plot of the Cruella movie is thin. It’s as if the writers needed to find something with which to fuel the lead’s wrath and set off the events of what is essentially a revenge flick, and did so by picking a plot devices out of a hat filled with cliches and frankly, weird options. If it weren’t for the fact that Emma Stone gives her all to the role, it may not have been worth watching at all. But, to the actresses credit, she does indeed give a performance that makes us love Cruella in all her wicked madness.
Emma Stone’s Cruella de Vil is a more rounded, human version of the villain we’ve come to know as a puppy stealing nightmare. She was bullied at school for being different, orphaned, and shaped by a life of hardship and genius into an eccentric and slightly batty creative maverick. Her henchmen, too, (played by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser) are portrayed as loveable sidekicks and even friends. It very nearly gives the film a little more emotional dimension.
Perhaps because of the bizarre blend of plot points that have been thrown together, Stone’s humanizing performance, as enjoyable as it is, seems slightly disconnected from the Cruella brand we’ve come to know. So much so that, in his review for Vanity Fair, Richard Lawson writes that “by the end of the film, it’s impossible to track, or imagine, how this Cruella becomes the future Cruella”.
Although the film, like the dogs Cruella De Vil, is renowned for stealing, is somewhat spotty when it comes to plot and real emotional depth it’s not a complete write-off. The absurdity rings true to traditional Disney animation, and there are numerous entertaining callbacks to the original Dalmations films.
And there are further strengths that don’t rely on Cruella‘s leading actress. The soundtrack will have you singing along with almost every tune, and the costumes are vibrant and ingenious – a delightful throwback to the early days of the London punk scene (In fact, the film seems to be crediting the entire punk scene to Cruella’s OTT creative displays).
At 134 minutes, it’s a long watch, and Children (and adults) with short attention spans may find themselves losing interest. If you’re in the mood for some dark, yet light entertainment, that will stir up one or two nuggets of nostalgia, though, perhaps this new Cruella movie worth a shot. And anyway, don’t we all secretly love a villain?