CRUELLA is directed by Craig Gillespie. The film stars Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, and Mark Strong. Glenn Close, who’d previously portrayed Cruella De Vil in the previous two live action 101 DALMATIANS films, serves as an executive producer.
In 1960s England, young Estella finds herself an orphan following the death of her mother, trying to restrain the darker side of her personality. Escaping to London, she befriends street urchins Horace and Jasper, growing into a young adult in the 1970s with the desire to pursue her dream of becoming a fashion designer. But when she gets her chance to work for an esteemed company, she finds herself unappreciated by the Baroness, her employer. The young ambitious designer-in-training must unleash her inner dark side, dubbed Cruella, if she’s ever to rival and overtake the Baroness.
Disney’s been pumping out live-action takes on old animated favorites and reimagined origin stores for many classic characters, good and evil alike. So naturally, it was only a matter of time before they got to the classic 101 DALMATIANS villainess, Cruella De Vil. These reimaginings and live action takes are dime a dozen, often hit and miss in their execution. But Emma Stone rises above the odds and tramples any preconceived notions. CRUELLA soars higher than you’d expect thanks to its gorgeous period detail, vintage soundtrack, and a sympathetic-yet-devious heroine who’ll hold your attention from start to finish, even if it’s about half an hour too long.
There are not enough good things to be said about Emma Stone’s portrayal of the title character. When portraying a classic character, one is treading on proverbial eggshells, as even the slightest misstep can derail the film and the performance. Fortunately, Stone gives the character everything she needs; she's true to classic incarnations but also puts her own (much needed) spin on things. She’s charismatic, sexy, sassy, devious, and lovable and sympathetic despite it all. In many ways she feels like a female version of Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker, a comment I don’t bestow lightly. Her performance must be seen to be believed. Step aside, Glenn Close and Betty Lou Gerson. There’s a new Cruella in town!
While none of the supporting cast members quite reach Emma Stone’s level of charisma, everyone is beautifully cast and adds something to the film. Emma Thompson as the Baroness conveys a detestable upper-class personality that makes her the villain you love to hate; the Battle of the Emmas ends up never disappointing. We even get Paul Walter Hauser as Horace (he’d previously appeared in I, TONYA, also directed by Craig Gillespie), who stands as a lasting source of hilarious comic relief; hearing this guy do a British accent is priceless. Another stand-out player comes in the form of John McCrea as a flamboyant fashion shop owner who befriends Cruella; this guy looks like the unholy love child of David Bowie and Andy Warhol, and steals the screen when he’s on it, particularly in one musical sequence, although the film rightly doesn’t overuse him and run the risk of upstaging Emma Stone. Classic 101 DALMATIANS characters Roger and Anita appear in brief supporting parts here, though it’s clear Disney is planning on saving them for a sequel; something a mid-credits scene sees to confirm.
You may think CRUELLA would be a battle of style versus substance, but I’m happy to say the film is oozing with both in equal quantities! The movie’s soundtrack of period songs is fantastic and stands as one of its strongest assets; though admittedly I’d wish the people putting the soundtrack together had stuck to British artists based on the film’s setting (nothing feels out of place though). Locations, costume design, and all other décor and setpieces steal the show. The film deserves an Oscar for Best Costumes, as I don’t see it being upstaged in this category by any other move this year.
The one minor place CRUELLA suffers is in its pacing. The movie clocks in at over two hours, and it could have been half an hour shorter with still just as strong of an impact. Parents should also be forewarned that the film is rated PG-13, and while nothing in the movie is overly shocking , it may be more intense than they’re expecting (the film does delve into some dark territory at times, though there’s no graphic violence). Though if your kids have seen comic book movies, they should be fine.
CRUELLA reimagines one of Disney’s classic villainesses, and the film is a triumph in every conceivable way, though this moviegoer does still wish it was about half an hour shorter. But you’ll be too tied up in the characters, the sounds, the setpieces, the costumes, and every single other aspect this film throws at you to care. It doesn’t disappoint, and Emma Stone now owns this role. Very highly recommended!
Rating: Three-and-a-half stars out of four.