Chances are when you first heard the news about Cruella, Disney’s live-action origin story showcasing the antagonist from 101 Dalmatians, you found yourself scratching your head. Is there room in the marketplace for yet another origin story? Do we want to sympathize with a woman who sought pleasure from skinning puppies to make fur coats?
Craig Gillespie, the director of 2017’s I, Tonya, helms a sleek and stylish dive into the titular character’s humble beginnings. Cruella is aesthetically pleasing in more ways than one. Jenny Beavan deserves another Oscar for her work in curating the ethereally stunning costumes for this film. They are true works of art that belong in a museum. If you’re a fashion maven, you’ll find yourself salivating over the intricate creations donned by stars Emma Stone and Emma Thompson.
Secondly, the cinematography encapsulates the gloomy aura of London and manages to incorporate the punk rock revolution that was sweeping the city at the time. It’s a bit dark and dreary, which may not sit well with everyone. That being said, it successfully transports us to 1970s London.
Not to mention, Cruella boasts a kickass soundtrack featuring the hit music makers of the 1960s and 1970s. Florence + the Machine churns out a darkly acoustic title track that epitomizes the very nature of Cruella herself. I’d go so far as to say it might be one of my favorite soundtracks of all time. Again, the music of those eras appeals to me.
Stone delivers a beautifully nuanced performance here. She grounds a typically over-the-top villain in reality. There are moments aplenty wherein she could’ve easily morphed into the “mustache-twirling,” bombastic baddie of the 1961 animated film. However, Stone imbues Cruella with a truthfulness that took me by surprise.
Thompson is deliciously wicked as the haughty Baroness. She transforms what could have been a two-dimensional character into a multifaceted, fleshed-out human being. We’re not supposed to like the Baroness, but it’s hard not to when Thompson is playing her. Both Stone and Thompson share electrifying chemistry which translates well on screen, especially in some of the heavier scenes.
Now, there are several nods to 101 Dalmatians in Cruella. They’re not overt or painfully obvious, but they seamlessly blend in with the overall story. There’s a scene that’s reminiscent of Birdman in that there’s one long, continuous shot. I’d like to think Gillespie is paying homage to the 2014 film, which also starred Stone.
Despite all of the positives, Cruella isn’t without its flaws. The major plot twist is predictable. Some of the dialogue teeters on the line of cheesiness. That being said, this is a Disney movie, so take that with a grain of salt. Perhaps that’s on purpose. After all, Cruella herself is grandiose, dramatic, and flamboyant. The style and tone of the film certainly convey those aspects of her personality.
I’m not sure whether Disney making a puppy-skinning villain likable says more about them or me. Stone’s performance certainly helps in that arena. The film doesn’t totally shine an angelic light on her nor does it 100 percent vilify her. Cruella herself is aware that she’s “brilliant, bad and a little bit mad.” Instead, the story is laid bare before us and we come to our own conclusions.
Overall, Cruella is lustrous yet messy and riotous, as depicted through its showcase of the punk rock revolution. Consider it to be the love child of The Devil Wears Prada and I, Tonya. It’s one woman’s descent into madness while she simultaneously pushes herself to fully embrace every inch of who she inherently is.
Cruella is a devilishly good time. If you love gorgeous costumes, a toe-tapping soundtrack and a punk rock lead who tramples over societal conventions, then you’ll love Disney’s latest flick. Stone really shines. She makes you believe in all that is Cruella de Vil. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Cruella hits theaters on Friday, May 28, with a concurrent debut on Disney Plus Premier Access (additional fee required).