Cruella is a live-action Disney origin story inspired by the iconic villain, starring Emma Stone. The film’s plot is centered around the untold story of how Stone’s Estella became Cruella de Vil. Truthfully, when I first saw the trailers for the film, I had no idea what to think. As many on social media pointed out, it looked like a combination between Birds of Prey meets Joker meets The Devil Wears Prada. These films are obviously not geared towards little children, so I think that is what stuck out the most when I saw the trailers before seeing the movie.
To my surprise, I enjoyed it immensely. I found Cruella to be refreshing, as it didn’t feel like the typical Disney live-action remake. Cruella is incredibly dark for a movie based on a Disney animated film, arguably even darker than Maleficent. However, unlike Maleficent, which loses something when they try so hard to make her good at the end, this film doesn’t do that. In fact, almost all of the characters in this film are bad. They might be entertaining and humorous to watch, but the traditional Disney ideals don’t define them. To me, this is what stuck out the most about the film as a whole because it feels so wonderfully anti-Disney. There is no tale of forgiveness or Disney magic but rather just a dark tale about how Estella went from being a quiet social outcast to being the vengeful Cruella.
The film takes place in the 70s. Director Craig Gillespie and the costume designer, production designers, music supervisors, and hair and makeup team create a deliciously dark and colorful punk setting that could easily end up getting some love during awards season. The soundtrack completely captures the era, using trendy tracks with many cover tracks added into the mix. As proven time and time again, Gillespie has a way of telling stories with complex characters. He knows how to strike that perfect balance of making almost all of the characters in the film enjoyable to watch but not characters that you necessarily like. Gillespie knows how to walk that fine line, and he does it with Cruella.
When it comes to casting, the film absolutely nails it. Pairing Emma Stone and Emma Thompson together was a brilliant decision, and even though I will be the first to admit that I had some doubts about Stone playing Cruella. However, I have no problem admitting when I am wrong as she absolutely owns this character. The Emmas, together, are an absolute delight to watch. Some of the best scenes are where Cruella upstages Thompson’s Baroness at her various events. These scenes show off how talented these actresses are and highlight the incredible work that Jenny Beavan did creating these elaborate and incredibly detailed costumes.
Paul Walter Hauser and Joel Fry bring some charming comedic relief to the film as Estella’s two best friends/henchmen. Personally, I think Hauser is a scene-stealer and even pulls off a British accent with ease. I am happy to see Hauser getting more roles like these. It looks as though he is having a lot of fun playing Horace and seems to work well with Gillespie. Mark Strong makes a rather brief appearance in the film, but he definitely makes it count for what little screentime he has.
In terms of my complaints, the film does run a bit long. There are a few scenes that could have been easily edited down or cut completely. I think shaving about 15 minutes off the 2 hr and 15-minute runtime would have made for a tighter and better-paced film. My only other complaint is that some secondary characters seemed to have little or nothing to do. This might tie into the runtime, though I’m unsure if the film needed as many characters as it did. I think focusing on the six characters I already mentioned was enough.
Of all the recent Disney Live-Action films from the past decade, Cruella is easily one of the best. Hiring a director like Craig Gillespie proves that Disney isn’t afraid to shake things up, and that is exactly what we needed after less-than-stellar remakes like The Lion King. This film is bold and takes chances, and while it may not work for everyone, Cruella should be celebrated for stepping out of the traditional Disney wheelhouse. If you have been craving a Disney film that doesn’t follow the typical Disney formula, Cruella is definitely that film.