NOTE: Here is my review from Soda & Telepaths that was posted back on June 8, 2021
Cruella De Vil, one of the most wicked villains of the entire Disney catalog, started her life as a young woman named Estella. Estella was a troubled child, getting into fights at her boarding school and in general making life hard for herself and her mother. Indeed, this side of her personality was so cruel that she would come to name that mood “Cruella”.
Eventually she’s kicked out of boarding school and escapes with her mother to London, though they have one quick stop on the way. At that stop Estella’s mother tries to get help for her family but ends up being pushed off a cliff by… uh… dalmatians. This leads to Estella running away and meeting up with two boys, Jasper and Horace, who help keep her safe.
When the trio grow up, making a living by the occasional petty theft here and there, things change when Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Houser) help get Estella (Emma Stone) a job at a local fashion store, which ends up getting her noticed by the world famous fashion designer Baroness Von Hellman (Emma Thompson). The Baroness ends up taking Estella under her wing, but while there Estella learns a few secrets that ends up making her need to pull out the darker side of herself and let Cruella come out to play.
Some Good Cruella Moments
In terms of tone, Cruella feels dances somewhere between a Tim Burton wet dream and the most elaborate Drag Race runway challenge you’ve ever set your eyes on. It’s dark and twisted with impish glee in every morsel of edge it pulls out (and it has got a surprising amount of edge for one of these films), all while dressed in elaborate gowns that run the gamut from Vivienne Westwood on crack to a floor length gown made from garbage with a train that runs the length of 5th Avenue.
This film definitely has an idea of what it wants to be and doesn’t actually give a damn if you like it because it’s having fun, so either get on board or don’t.
This is also, very clearly, not the exact Cruella that we know and… love? Can we admit to loving Cruella as a character for her delicious comically over the top evil? This Cruella wouldn’t hurt a puppy, indeed she spends the entire film with several of them following and working with her, but she has no qualms about making her enemies believe that she would kill and skin a puppy just to make a pretty coat. She’s not a good girl, she’s very proudly a bad girl and revels in it but she never quite goes as far as her Glenn Close counterpart might.
While she isn’t quite at Glenn Close level (but who is?), Emma Stone manages to create an interesting version of a young Cruella. While largely restrained, she has her occasional moments of turning everything up to 11 and uses them so precisely that it’s kind of glorious to watch her work. Overshadowing Emma Stone throughout the entire picture, however, is the one and only Emma Thompson, who clearly got told that the scenery is made out of candy because she’s just eating her fill of it. She’s the most evil and delightfully so, which makes sense in the film since we are witnessing the birth of the Cruella character and part of her arc is effectively becoming the Baroness.
This entire film basically relies on the back and forth between the two female leads, which is delightful, and the elaborate costumes that are destined to be labelled as Oscar Worthy in a little under a year from now. While there is a stunning lack of fur (because apparently this version of Cruella doesn’t do fur), every outfit is so delightfully over the top that I half expect to see Cruella bust out into a lip-sync for her life at some point. If you just want to enjoy a hyper stylised fashion show where the category is Black and White Realness then this film’s got you covered there too.
A Few Spotty Moments
Of course the problem Cruella has is going to be insurmountable for many… this isn’t the Cruella that we know. This isn’t the puppy killing maniac who walks around with a cigarette in one hand and a razor blade in the other, they’ve tried to make this a somewhat sympathetic character and there are times when it just doesn’t work.
For some, the entire idea of Cruella not being an evil puppy killer will make you go “Then what’s the point? That’s the character, that’s what I’m paying to see!” and you’re right. That’s kind of the barrier to entry, can you accept this new interpretation of a beloved villain?
Then there’s the gay character, because this film rather infamously mentioned it had the first gay character in a Disney movie (The 7th Disney film in recent years to make such a claim, almost like they keep getting it very very wrong!) and as a gay reviewer let me tell you this character is certainly flamboyant, and he lives to the end and has a fairly major role so we’re going to chalk this up as a technical win but god damn I’m tired of “Gay” meaning “The actor went very camp so we’re using it as representation”
Oh, and there are some serious strobing effects during possibly the best sequence of the movie, so be prepared for the potential headache that’s going to cause… because as most people know by now strobe lights are bad and the film makers who use them despite knowing their potential impact should feel bad!
If you can adjust to this variation on the Cruella character, then there is fun to be had here in this dark little film. It’s great performances by a very game cast, the elaborate outfits that will undoubtedly be inspiring a drag queen near you in the coming months, some absolutely gorgeous camera work that just makes the film fly by.
There’s enough good here for it to be worth seeing at some point, you might not need to rush to see it but it’s certainly better than Maleficent or whatever the hell that Lion King remake was. At least this live action Disney film has an idea, even if that idea requires a lot of work to buy into.