Cruella Review: Chaotic fun delivered through great performances and rebellious style
Disney attempts to give another one of their beloved queens of mean a live-action origin story with their latest film Cruella.
The film delves into the origins of the iconic, Dalmatian-obsessed villain from 101 Dalmatians, Cruella de Vil, as a rebellious and vengeful woman named Estella (Emma Stone) that channels her inner crassness to take down the cold and demeaning Baroness (Emma Thompson) by becoming Cruella. To this day, Cruella de Vil is still seen as one of the vilest Disney villains, but it should come as no surprise that she hasn’t fully developed a mean streak here and this origin story takes some liberties to make her a little more charismatic and flesh out some aspects of her story. After all, a film’s protagonist has to have some likeable qualities to them, otherwise they’d be impossible to tolerate. So, yes this isn’t exactly the Cruella de Vil people love to hate, but that’s not a bad thing and there’re some elements to Cruella’s rise that are interesting to see.
The way the film fleshes out the relationship between her and her well-known underlings, Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), is really great and knowing how much they fall into Cruella’s shadow later in life, it’s interesting to see them on an equal level. You really see this trio and their dogs as a collective and caring unit with how they pull off the perfect crimes together and how Jasper helps Estella be something more than just a common thief. Cruella’s rising presence and rebellious nature that’s aimed at taking down the Baroness is also a lot of fun to watch, and the film brings almost all the right components to make this rise of a devious fashion icon incredibly epic.
The costume design in Cruella is as perfect as it damn well should be. There are plenty of iconic, crazy outfits that feel right at home with Cruella’s look and motivations as well as the rebellious punk vibes of its 70s London setting. All her actions and public displays delightfully go against the Baroness and it’s almost like she’s taking pages out of the Joker’s book and then redesigning them to fit her own twisted vision – true Cruella fashion if you ask me. The only aspect that doesn’t work is the music as this film completely mishandles its soundtrack. It’s so obnoxiously distracting with how well-known songs are just thrown in for no real reason other than to establish a tone – which it fails to do.
The key component, though, is in bringing great performances and it’s where this film continually shines as it presents some heartfelt good and undeniable evil that’s all a blast to watch. Stone is just as incredible as expected as she really feels like a woman on the edge and pulls out all the stops in delivering a wild performance. With every smirk, chilling cackle, and excellently delivered line of cold, hard remarks, Stone channels Cruella’s cruelty in a delightful fashion.
Frankly, knowing how villainous Cruella de Vil is, it’s hard to believe that a greater villain could be created for her to go up against. Somehow though, Cruella achieves this through Thompson’s absolutely iconic performance as the devious devil that is the Baroness. My gosh, Thompson is an absolute treasure here with how despicable she can be, and the Baroness is truly someone that just thrives on being powerfully evil making her the perfect villain for Cruella to face off against. It’s also worth noting that Fry and Hauser’s performances are equally great with the comedy and heart they bring and are already vastly underrated.
There are a lot of fresh elements that Cruella brings with its style and performances that it unfortunately can’t always bring with its overly formulaic origin story. Cruella’s expanded relationship with Jasper and Horace and her becoming Cruella work well with building her origins because it’s giving you a new perspective on the iconic villain and subverts expectations in great ways. However, the parts of her origin as an understudy to the Baroness, her troubled childhood, and the “twist” of the Baroness being a part of a life-changing betrayal are come off super bland because they’re just typical origin story beats that makes Cruella’s storytelling generic as hell. Every moment of Cruella coming should be full of excitement with how this rebellious figure is just taking over London, but it’s just wrapped in these familiar story beats that don’t fit with how Cruella is trying to go against the grain.
Even worse is that all the nods towards the original animated film don’t come off as grand as they should and although I’d still be interested in seeing more of Stone as Cruella down the road, having a mid-credits scene is super unnecessary and a little arrogant. Even the film’s transition to its final act and big reveal dedicated to establishing why Cruella has this inner cruelty is weak and a little generic. Thankfully, the film pulls itself together in its really strong finale with how it lets Cruella loose and face the Baroness in her own way. However, Cruella struggles to fully set itself apart from feeling like the other Disney live-action outings lately and it’s hard not to feel like this film is held back in having to conform to certain look and feel.
Cruella may struggle to make all its stylistic elements work and its anti-hero origins for its titular villain fresh, but it ends up being delightfully chaotic fun that puts Cruella de Vil and her cohorts in an interesting new light that brightened by great performances and devilishly rebellious antics.