Among the torrent of live-action Disney remakes and spin-offs, Cruella feels like a breath of fresh air. As a standalone experience, the combination of 1970s’ fashion, punk rock anthems and dastardly deeds of vengeance are extremely enjoyable – and Emma Stone is the perfect choice for this wild role.
However, the prequel doesn’t fully connect with the source material. Whilst the villain origin story directed by Craig Gillespie is certainly a fun ride, it still feels like there’s a lot missing between this film and 101 Dalmatians – in which Cruella De Vil acts as the main antagonist.
Cruella details the character’s life, quite literally from the moment she is born (formally named Estella), all the way through to young adulthood. The earlier years of the future designer’s life aren’t anywhere near as thrilling as what comes later, and trimming down these scenes would have stopped the movie from feeling bloated and drawn-out.
The turning point of the film is the entry of the Baroness – which is understandable considering that the part is played by the brilliant Emma Thompson. It showcases the glamorous, tempting side of high fashion and teases us with glimpses of just who Estella could have been, had she not been driven by vengeance.
There are heist film influences in Cruella, something I found unexpected but enjoyed immensely. Jumping about between various locations and seeing how the anti-hero pulled off complicated stunts and got out of sticky situations was exhilarating, and something that hasn’t been seen in other Disney live-action remakes.
The film feels at its strongest when it leans into the dramatic outfit reveals, playing these up like catwalk moments. Variety notes that Cruella has a whopping 47 different outfits throughout, with costumes designed by multi-Oscar-winning designer Jenny Beavan, who’s worked on a huge range of films, from The Remains of the Day to Mad Max: Fury Road.
The thought and detail that has been put into some of these outfits is evident. Some are only on screen for twenty seconds or less but remain memorable because of the bold and daring finish. I never thought I’d say that I want to wear a dress that’s inspired by a truck full of rubbish and newspapers, but here we are.
Costumes and styling also play a huge part in bringing the 1970s to life – another area in which Cruella shines. London in the punk era feels like the perfect backdrop to birth this character and gives her unique quirks and qualities that make her feel more like a person than an evil cartoon character.
Stone mostly captures this nuance. However, there is a turning point at which Estella drops any pretence of trying to pave the way for success and lets out her inner villain. While the justification is there, on paper at least, the switch felt jarring and could have been more subtly achieved over the course of the film.
One controversial core message of the movie is that your blood defines who you are. I may not agree with that in principle, but it fits the narrative of what will eventually become a despicable character. That said, I don’t feel that the Cruella at the end of this story is poised to go on and skin puppies for her own personal fur coat.
For one, she has a close relationship with dogs – puppos who will no doubt steal the show for some people. Seeds are planted to show a hatred for Dalmatians, but by the end of the movie it feels like we’ve still got a few more twists to go before we get to the quite literally black and white villain of the future Disney films.
There’s also a very bizarre post-credits scene, which directly ties into the story of 101 Dalmatians. I won’t spoil it, but it left me rather confused and very disturbed when I realised just how some of these characters are set up for what’s to come in this universe.
If I know Disney, all of these mixed messages are a product of the fact that there’s more feature ideas stashed away in the House of Mouse vault. As a character, Cruella feels far from done, so I suspect that space has been left to play around with.
While it’s rated 12A/PG-13, I’m not sure how much enjoyment kids will get from this film. The bumbling sidekicks Jasper and Horace (played by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser) do provide some slapstick comic relief, and Wink the one-eyed Chihuahua is a joy to watch. However, there are dark undertones to this story, and the length alone makes it tricky to stay focused throughout.
Disney straddles the line with its live-action remakes, trying to appeal to nostalgic millennial audiences whilst also keeping everything just safe enough for newer, younger viewers. However, this film errs much more on the edgier side of the spectrum.
Cruella lands the themes of the film perfectly. It’s a story of a thief-turned-fashionista who lets revenge slowly drive her mad. It’s also a love letter to fashion and the seventies and captures the gritty backdrop of London perfectly – the De Vil is in the details.
Whilst it doesn’t quite set up Emma Stone to be the loathsome Cruella that Glenn Close plays, it’s a wild rollercoaster and one of the strongest Disney live-action remakes we’ve seen – although it could do with being twenty minutes shorter.
Cruella is out now in cinemas worldwide, and on Disney Plus via Disney Plus Premiere Access. You can read more about how to watch Cruella here.