Disney loves making live-action remakes of their popular animated films. And quite frankly, I’ve disliked most of them. They often feel redundant and stale, and really don’t do much to warrant their existence. So, I had my reservations coming into Cruella. But I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. This re-imagining of popular villain, takes its liberties with the character, but is also a very lively, enjoyable romp.
The plot is your typical sympathetic villain origin story, where a childhood tragedy leads to them down a dark path. In this case, it’s a misfit kid – Estella (Emma Stone) – who thinks she’s responsible for her mother’s death. We then fast-forward to the present where Estella lives the life of a petty criminal, alongside cohorts Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace ( Paul Walter Hauser). With aspirations of being a fashion designer, Estella eventually finds herself working for the Baroness (Emma Thompson), a self-centered fashion mogul. But, once Estella learns the Baroness has ties to her mother’s death, she crafts a revenge ploy and mayhem ensues. Despite some conventional story beats, Cruella has enough creative flair to make it stand out.
Major props go towards director Craig Gillespie and writers Dana Fox, Tony McNamara and Aline Brosh McKenna. They’ve created a wild crime flick filled with personality. The 1970’s fashion backdrop was a great choice that produces some extravagant costumes and lavish visuals. It’s a very good looking movie all around. And apart from a couple eye-rolling twists, the setting, character and story really gelled together in an engrossing, theatrical way. From the mobile camera to the snappy editing, there’s a whimsical energy throughout that holds your attention. Even the heists and set-pieces are playfully executed, nicely utilizing the characters (both human and canine). The stylized filmmaking and entertaining performances elevate what could have been a pretty unnecessary story into something worthwhile.
It also helps to have a fun soundtrack filled with 60’s and 70’s hits throughout. The movie does heavily rely on these songs, and some choices are cliché, but they’re still enjoyable nonetheless. Scenes become even more engaging with cheeky needle drops like “Time of the Season” and “Sympathy for the Devil”.
As for the titular character, her characterization will surely polarize audiences. Gone is the evil dog-killer we’re familiar with. Instead, the movie makes her into a fashion-loving anti-hero. This may disappoint some, but I didn’t mind the change because it works for the story being told. You kind of have to accept Cruella’s humanization to get on board with this movie. I, however, did not think she appeared as unhinged as she proclaimed to be. While Glen Close’s interpretation gave us a wickedly campy villain that felt genuinely threatening, Emma Stone’s Cruella comes off as a confident persona that Estella is trying to put on. To its credit, the movie doesn’t make her into an inspirational figure by any means. She’s still vain and selfish. But I also wished the film leaned further into the “mad woman” character it’s trying to sell, and better critiqued her flaws. Even so, Emma Stone is a delight to watch. She seems to be having a lot of fun, and plays off all the characters really well.
Meanwhile, Emma Thompson makes for a great antagonist, revelling in the Baroness’ narcissistic apathy. While the movie may sympathize with Cruella, it keeps the Baroness evil through and through. Her insufferable vanity and biting insults make her a villain you love to hate. And the teacher-student rivalry between her and Cruella is irresistible. Also, I was pleased by how much of a presence Jasper and Horace have in the story, as Cruella’s accomplices. The two provide a lot of comic relief and aid the heists, as expected. But, they also share some nice character moments with Cruella that makes you buy into their familial bond.
Unlike Disney’s other remakes, Cruella isn’t bogged down trying to constantly replicate the magic of past versions. If anything, it feels more like an Elseworld story that’s focussed on doing its own thing. And it does so with style. Is Cruella a great origin story for the famous villain? Probably not. But it is an enjoyable, well-made crime- comedy in its own right.
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