Disney’s live-action adaptations are certainly a bone of contention in both Disney and film fans alike, with the majority of re-imaginings met with a mixed response. While the studio continues with readapting their back catalogue, the latest instalment is perhaps the most unusual and out there tale. Much like the Sleeping Beauty villain-reimagining Maleficent, the House of Mouse is turning back time to delve into the origins of one of their most wicked villains – Cruella De Vil.
Directed by Craig Gillespie, Cruella centres on a young but hugely creative Estella (Emma Stone), who falls into a life of crime in London following a childhood tragedy. Determined to make a name for herself, she begins to work at Liberty, with her window design catching the eye of fashion legend Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson). She lands a role at the most fearsome fashion house in London, quickly becoming the Baronesses’ protégée. However Estella discovers a disconcerting secret which changes everything, sparking a rebellion that leads Estella to embrace her wicked side, hell bent on revenge.
Disney’s latest live-action reimagining explores the rebellious origins and early days of fashionista Cruella, combining a mix of Devil Wears Prada and Hustle in the process. This is a definite departure from the House of Mouse’s usual fare, with a bold statement from director Gillespie – the tone is darker and surprisingly aimed more at adults than children, whilst proving the most visually distinctive entry yet. The punk-inspired 70s setting is full of rebellion, as an intense fashion battle heats up between the established Baroness and the anarchist Cruella. Dana Fox and Tony McNamara’s screenplay is fun, full of energetic heists and action sequences, along with some unexpected humour. However, there’s an overly baggy runtime with pacing issues, particularly in the second act. The film does also stray into conventional narrative tropes, particularly with a tragic family backstory and an evil stepmother-esque figure.
Emma Stone is as charismatic as ever in the titular role, completely transforming from Estella into Cruella throughout the character’s arc. Her performance is packed full of rebellious spirit and energy and it’s so much fun to see Stone face off against Thompson’s Baroness. However, it really doesn’t sit right with me that making this character likeable and positioning them as the cheeky anti-hero who even has their own canine companion. There is a specific reasoning behind her dislike of Dalmatians, but there’s no overt inclining that she’d ever resort to animal cruelty so willingly. Thompson is delightfully narcissistic as Baroness Von Hellmen, seething with contempt for all “imbeciles” surrounding her. It’s clear she’s having a blast as the egotistical fashion powerhouse, and the scenes between the two Emma’s elevate the material, echoing the chaotic dynamic between Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser are also a lot of fun as Estella’s partners in crime, with Hauser particularly stealing a lot of scenes, whereas poor Mark Strong is tragically underused in a completely forgettable role.
As previously mentioned, this is the most visually distinct of Disney’s live-action origins/remakes, with absolutely incredible costumes from Jenny Beavan and hair and makeup by Nadia Stacey. A particularly fun sequence sees Cruella tumbling out of a rubbish van onto a red carpet decked head to toe in flamboyantly styled rubbish. I genuinely expect the two designers to be up for Oscar nominations for the roles. Paired with the outstanding production and surprising cinematic visuals is a toe-tapping punk soundtrack filled with some absolute classics. Bowie, Blondie and the Clash are just some of the more notable artists, along with an impressive performance by by Joel Fry’s character and his band, as they hijack another of Baroness Von Hellmen’s entrances.
Cruella is a visually bold and fiendishly fun crime romp featuring a fantastic dynamic between Emma Stone and Emma Thompson. The film does suffer from an overly long runtime and some niggling continuity problems – but if you’re looking for a dark and twisted take on the Disney fairytale – complete with fashion shows, fabulous gowns and a fantastic soundtrack – then this one’s for you.
Cruella releases in theaters and streams on Disney+ with Premium Access on May 28, 2021