Cruella - Review
The fashion designing, dog stealing, Disney villain finally gets her own prequel in this outlandish, bolterous and brilliant adaptation.
JUNE 1st, 2021
Director: Craig Gillespie | Cert: 12A | Runtime: 2h 14m
isney has found a marketable niche in bringing their iconic animations into the live-action world. Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aladdin, Cinderella and Mulan are just some of the classics which have been bestowed the live-action treatment. Yet, for some of their most iconic characters (and in particular villains) Disney have attempted to add some depth and understanding to their villainy. Maleficent has received two movies, bringing a new take to the dark fairy, and following suit, one of Disney’s most beloved and equally fearsome characters is finally having her story told too, Cruella de Vil.
Cruella is the prequel to 101 Dalmations and from the start the tone and texture is defined quickly; a dash of The Devil Wears Prada with a mixture of Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad. Emma Stone follows in the fashion forward footsteps of Glenn Close - who first brought de Vil to life in the original live-action movie - and Betty Lou Gerson - who voiced the iconic character in the 1961 animation. And whilst the Cruella aesthetic remains instantly recognisable - black and white hair, animal print, and harsh defined makeup - Stone subtly brings something new to the character, stepping away from mimicking what has been done before, and attempting to forge a new avenue for Cruella to exist in.
That existence takes place in London in the 1970s amid the backdrop of the punk rock era (and with a kick-ass soundtrack to match). Cruella - formally known as Estella - begins to forge a career as a “think outside the box” fashion designer who is more than happy to use dirty tactics to gain exposure, even taking on Emma Thompson’s rival designer, the Baroness.
It is worth noting that performances are on top form here. Both Emmas are utterly electric in their roles and wonderfully play the role of “bitchiness” to perfection. Yet it is Stone who wins acclaim for her take on the titular Cruella. With a character so evil and over-the-top it can become easy to fall into the same old overly dramatic traps. Go big or go home - although an addictive response to a character like Cruella de Vil, Stone opts for a different approach, ensuring that Cruella is both bad, brutal and brilliantly wicked, yet also human and damaged.
Thompson is equally flawless, though plays her villain with much more grandeur. It is through the Baroness where we discover Cruella’s ultimate dislike for Dalmatians, setting up the plotline of 101 Dalmatians perfectly. Paul Walter Hauser and Joel Fry are brilliant as Horace and Jasper and play their parts with panache besides Stone’s Cruella.
In a film that plays off the heightened brutality of the fashion world, Cruella’s costume design is what makes Disney the best in the business. Outlandish couture and farfetched fabrics, even Lady Gaga would be impressed with the fashionable manifestations conjured by Jenny Beavan. The set design matches the grundy and tempestuous tone of the era, and the carefree, “anything goes” mantra of the 70s is perfectly embodied by the cinematography.
Director Craig Gillespie throws both caution to the wind whilst equally ensuring the character’s stories remain central to the driving force of the plot. Through his direction Cruella doesn’t fall into the trap of its predecessor Maleficent. The movie knows its title character, Gillespie understands that Cruella is a villain, and whilst there is a human side to her, in essence, she truly believes it is “good to be bad”. He doesn’t shy away from that outlook, and in doing so it makes Cruella’s development more believable, and reminds the audience why we love to hate this character so much.
Cruella is a magnificent movie, and although there are some screenplay issues and the pacing sometimes falters midway through, overall Disney have done justice to one of the most beloved and iconic villains. Cruella honours the cruelty the dognapping villain is famed for, whilst explaining the reasoning behind the madness. It is a clever prequel which easily sets up for a sequel, and with Emma Stone as the dastardly designer, Disney would be mad to not take the opportunity.
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