★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Directed by Craig Gillespie | Released 28 May 2021 | Runtime: 2h 14min
A devilishly fabulous rendition of a Disney classic
This was my second outing to the cinema since the UK lockdown was relaxed, and I have to say it was not the most pleasant experience. From long queues to non-existent social distancing, and noisy kids to dodgy screen sizes. Needless to say, my Saturday night could have been better. Anyhow, amongst the relentless mutterings and stomping up and down the screen steps, I managed to enjoy the film as best I could and muffle together my thoughts.
Onto the review – contains spoilery bits
Directed by Craig Gillespie best known for his films Lars and the Real Girl (2007) and I, Tonya (2017). He is currently working on Cruella 2, a sequel as announced by Disney last week, as well as the upcoming Hulu TV series, Pam and Tommy. The film stars Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, John McCrea and Mark Strong.
Cruella is pre-Disney myth, pre-‘101 Dalmatians’. It is the story of how the evil Cruella de Vil became the infamous puppy-hating mistress and gives viewers a new take on her backstory that sent her spiralling out of control. Set in the pre-punk era in London, Estella, a bright young lady dreams of becoming the next big thing in fashion, however past misfortunes and the tragic loss of her mother left her with nothing and led her into petty thievery and mischief. However, her luck changes when her natural affinity for design and creativity impress ‘The Baroness’, the notoriously stoic, biggest fashion mogul in Britain. There are several twists and turns along the way because Estella has wicked ambitions, an immaculate conception for fashion world domination, and a taste for revenge.
Let’s start by saying that this is a fun film and a devilishly fabulous rendition of a Disney classic. It does leak out customary Disney methodology but at the same time provides some fresh artistic ideas and surprise elements that viewers are sure to enjoy, and just in case you hadn’t already noticed, it’s not about 101 cute Dalmatian puppies trying to escape a mad woman. Disney seems to be aiming for innovative ways to reimagine their remakes, spin-offs, anthologies, etc. They are masters of invention and fully intend to change what we thought we knew about our favourite tales and characters and turn everything upside down.
*Childhood memories exploding in 3, 2, 1…*
Emma Stone proves once again with the ability to lure you in under her spell and compel your attention with her astonishing acting charisma. Her portrayal of Cruella actually leans more towards a sympathetic character and as it turns out ends up becoming more of a hero than the villain in this story. Her posh English accent was flawless and convincing as she switched between Estella and Cruella.
Emma Thompson does a wonderful job playing the antagonist and compliments the story beautifully, channeling an inner Glen Close throughout her character and performance. Her gaze transfixes and holds attention on screen, and you cannot help but pay attention when she is talking. Both leading ladies hold this entire film together and make it worth watching alone, but we have excellent supporting characters that prevent the film from taking itself too seriously, add finesse and give the film more flair.
The roles of Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (Joel Fry) bring a lighter atmosphere and add comedic elements to the film which is a nice touch, albeit, the jokes are always more on the adult side. Both are important in backing up Cruella’s cathartic plans. John the Valet (Mark Strong), Anita Darling (Kirby Howell Baptiste) and Artie (John McCrea) serve as what I would call ‘link characters’ (meaning that they link together specific lead character stories or provide alternative context to the actual forming plot). They all fit together in this retelling and compliment the film nicely.
I couldn’t complete this review without talking about the costume and make-up. I mean, the best word to describe these fundamental elements is: fabulous. The fashion displays are incredible (give them all of the awards). Inspiration taken from eighties punk rock fashion is evident (Vivienne Westwood instantly comes to mind) and has been modernised and tweaked to fit around Cruella’s personality. Speaking of which, the music selection and sounds bring the film to life and ensure you know exactly what to expect.
Although Cruella is enjoyable, full of smirky laughs, memorable moments and a whole bag full of glamour, it is not without fault. We kind of lose the significance of the message as Estella in turn becomes her wicked alter ‘Cruella’, but at the same time manages to stay a little bit, nice? So, is she going to be bad in the sequel, or continue with her new found edgy good-gal persona? And why did she keep the dogs, just for good measure? Don’t worry there are only three in this version. Perhaps the film could have been a little shorter in runtime (2h 14m) as some parts did feel a little drawn out and didn’t get to the point quick enough. Also, it is rated a 12A and definitely not for small kids.
That being said, the movie was ideal for a post-covid cinema outing and a fresh watch on the big screen. My initial thoughts upon seeing this film was that Disney would definitely be conjuring up a sequel – which we now know they are. This is one of the best Disney live-actions I’ve seen so far, and if you’re a fan of fashion, badass chicks, or just want something new to watch then it is worth checking out.
Available in cinemas now and to rent on Disney+