Cruella: Film Review

Cruella

Courtesy of Disney

The animated 101 Dalmatians was one of the few Disney films I had on VHS growing up so to say I’ve seen it many times would be an understatement. While I don’t think this live-action prequel Cruella is at all necessary, it was an entertaining watch that’s very nice to look at.

The movie, set in ’70s London, tells the story of Estella (Emma Stone) and how she came to be known as Cruella de Vil, the famous villain from 101 Dalmatians. After growing up as an orphan scamming strangers with Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), Estella, who has always dreamed of becoming a fashion designer, finally gets the chance to make her dream come true when Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), an industry icon and designer diva, discovers her punk-themed window display in Liberty department store and offers her job. However, it doesn’t take long for their relationship to sour and for them to become rivals.

I enjoyed watching Cruella, it felt like a breath of fresh air because it so different from all the other live-action Disney offerings – it’s darker and not aimed squarely at children – but it’s too long (two hours 14 minutes!), it lags around the middle and I don’t think the story stands up to too much scrutiny. A couple of character moments didn’t feel believable – Estella’s switch to Cruella wasn’t fully earned – and you’ll have to suspend your belief in the storyline in general, particularly towards the end. I think it’s best enjoyed if you accept that it’s lightweight and more style over substance.

And it sure is stylish! Cruella’s biggest strength is the costume, hair and make-up design. Those teams have Oscars in the bag! Their work is incredible and both Stone and Thompson have many costume changes and get to wear some absolutely stunning clothes, with my particular favourites being Cruella’s monochrome punk-inspired outfits. All hail Jenny Beavan!

Also on the visuals, the fantastic and fabulous setpieces of Cruella sabotaging the Baroness’ shows and events and upstaging her with out-there clothing were some of my favourite scenes, they were glorious to look at and heaps of fun to watch, and there are super cute dogs (Wink is so clever!) but I had some issues with the CGI. Considering this is big-budget Disney, I would have expected the CGI to be less obvious and you could really tell when a scene was done on a green screen too.

Stone is perfect, so well matched to the character, and she delivers a cheeky – if slightly hammy – devilish performance, with a solid British accent to boot. Yet, surprisingly, she is often outshone by Thompson, who is sensational as the Baroness, who gives Cruella a run for her money in the evil stakes. She gives off serious Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada vibes.

Elsewhere in the cast, Horace and Jasper are given an upgrade in terms of character development. They’re no longer just the one-dimensional bungling sidekicks, they’re Estella’s “family” and they’re not happy when she gets too big for her boots and treats them like dirt. Fry brought a lot of grounded humanity to a film that has very little of it, while Hauser is the main source of comedy and effectively delivered a few laughs.

Other cast members deserve a shout out too, such as John McCrea – who was amazing as the original lead of stage show Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – as a queer clothes shop owner who becomes Cruella’s ally. There’s also Mark Strong as John, a mysterious man who works for the Baroness, Kayvan Novak as her lawyer Roger and Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Anita Darling, a fashion journalist. Those last two names might ring a bell if you’re a fan of the animation. There are a few 101 Dalmatians references in here, but not too many.

Cruella doesn’t do enough to justify its existence and has quite a few problems, but it’s a feel-good riot led by two excellent performances.

In cinemas and on Disney+ from Friday 28th May

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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