Don’t be too harsh on Cruella de Vil! Her movie is clever and effective. It’s one to see. If you hear differently, tune it out. After all, everyone loves having someone to hate, am I right? Nothing wrong with admitting that.
Cruella herself confesses that people are entertained by a good villain; that’s a bill she not only fits but is happy to. Okay… did we need another Cruella movie, though? There are several animated films already, and Glenn Close tackles the character in the 1996 ‘101 Dalmatians’ and again in 2000 with ‘102 Dalmatians.’ Isn’t it time to let the story rest, especially when you consider what Cruella actually did to dogs in the original tale? You’d think so, but you’d be wrong. First, dogs are nothing but loved here, and Emma and Emma, Stone and Thompson, were meant to be a part of the Cruella franchise. They simply were. This prequel, ‘origin story’ if you will, had to be made if only for the actors involved in making the yarn come to life.
Now to begin. Estella is played by Academy Award® winner Emma Stone. Through voiceover, we make her and her mother’s acquaintance. You’ll learn more about her mother as the film progresses.
While in elementary school, young Estella grew rather nimble in creating excitement out of boredom. She felt she wasn’t appreciated and took it out on everyone around her. Because Estella was different, she never had it easy in school. In turn, she never made things easy for her mother. She was a rambunctious child, seemingly taking the frustrations of her daily life out on the person she was closest to. Her mother always tried to get Estella to be polite, friendly and civil. She wanted her daughter to just be ‘Estella,’ not naughty like a ‘Cruella’ would be. But being nice wasn’t a challenge for Estella. She wanted to have more fun.
Estella was an easy target for the loudest bullies. She was called ‘skunk’ and treated dreadfully because her hair was black on one side and white on the other. However, she did have a friend named Anita Darling to talk to and spend time with. Outside of Anita, Estella only had one other thing to cling to… fashion design. This was something she was learning from her talented mother. Love of fashion carried on from her childhood into adulthood.
She’s only twelve when the poor girl loses her mother. Estella watches as the only person she loves falls from a terrace to her death. Now an orphan, Estella runs off to London. She hooks up with two boys, Horace and Jasper, who are in the same position. They help one another survive by stealing from and conning people. They become the best in the game. But as they age, Jasper sees that Estella is meant for more.
Jasper gets her a job at the fashion house Liberty of London. They’re described by Estella as the ‘Pinnacle of fashion in the ’70s.’
They have all the best designers, even one of her favorites, the legendary Baroness von Hellman, played by two-time Oscar® winner Emma Thompson.
Soon after, through a happy accident, she ends up working at the House of Baroness and directly for the woman she so idolizes. Along with her other employees, Baroness allows Estella to wow her, asking for an outfit, giving a strict time in which to have it done. In the studio, the Baroness walks the line, looking at their work. She berates her inferiors as they attempt to please her, but she stops at Estella’s work. The color of her blood and her design does intrigue her. This is an amusing scene. Anyway, Estella passes the test.
While eagerly working for the fashion icon, Estella impresses her. They get close, so close that Estella sees something of her mother’s around the neck of the Baroness. Out of nowhere, a memory assaults her. The night of her mother’s death comes into complete focus. Something else does, too. Who she truly is. She isn’t a polite, compassionate, hospitable individual by nature. Inside lurks the genuine essence she has always had hidden away. She decides that “Cruella was in a box for a long time; now it’s Estella who will make guest appearances.” She then adds another stage to the Five Stages of Grief… revenge.
Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) are in to help Estella get that revenge.
Anita (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), who now works at Tattletale magazine, as well as new fashion friend Artie (John McCrea), jump in to lend a hand, too. Cruella begins to show up at all events put on by the Baroness. The Baroness is not easily rattled by the arrival of this Cruella woman who keeps stealing her spotlight and pulling focus from her galas. But what is she to do if this continues?
Thompson is glorious. Her portrayal of the Baroness is so cringe-worthy it’s easy to detest the very sight of her.
There’s a symmetry to the way Stone plays Estella and Cruella. Her Estella is poised but with a malicious twinkle in her eyes. She gives the impression that inside slinks someone capable of striking at any moment. As Cruella, she’s wicked, comfortable with who she is. Her designs and youth grab the media’s attention and they begin writing headlines such as, ‘Baroness is Old News.’
At over 2 hours, the film does drag some, but you’re bewitched by the superb performances; equally by the soundtrack. I’m sure you’ve already heard ‘Call me Cruella’ by Florence + The Machine, but there’s also ‘Feeling Good’ by Nina Simone, ‘Livin’ Thing’ by ELO, ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ by Queen, ‘One Way or Another’ by Blondie and ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ by John McCrea, to help set up exactly who Cruella is at her core. You’ll also hear Nancy Sinatra’s ‘These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ and several more. These songs are timed perfectly with the scene they’re in.
This soundtrack, the costumes, the CGI, and the script all work hand-in-hand to present to you your new favorite Disney Live-Action film. Director Craig Gillespie takes the Tony McNamara (The Favourite) and Dana Fox (Isn’t It Romantic) script and creates something dark and moody, especially when it comes to certain characters, such as Mark Strong’s John the Valet. But with others, the atmosphere can be dry or quick-witted, sometimes sweet. Essentially, you get a little of everything with ‘Cruella,’ which leaves you hoping for more, to be honest. I’m sure there’s a script for its sequel being worked on right now. I hope they do make another and if they do, that it includes another great soundtrack when it’s released, as wonderful as the one offered here.
*Stay to watch a middle credit scene.
**Cruella will release simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access for a one-time additional fee on Friday, May 28.
Director: Craig Gillespie
Writers: Dana Fox, Tony McNamara, Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel, Steve Zissis
Stars: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, John McCrea and Mark Strong
Running Time: 2h 14m
Genres: Comedy, Drama
*Based on the novel “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” by Dodie Smith