A fashion designer with a sadistic streak takes on a
ruthless fashion baroness, becoming famous in the process.
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Written by Dana Fox and Tony McNamara
Starring Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry,
Paul Walter Hauser, Mark Strong, John McCrea,
Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Kayvan Novak, Emily Beecham
Prequel to 1996's 101 Dalmatians
Based on characters created by Dodie Smith
I never thought in a million years that a movie about Cruella De Vil's early years would work. She's a character whose entire personality and motivation is built around skinning dogs to make coats. But somehow, thanks to a delightfully bizarre but endearing performance from Emma Stone, the film not only works, but it's entertaining as hell. We get to see how a little girl with a bit of a cruel streak fell in love with fashion, then became hellbent on revenge against her vicious mentor of sorts, transforming from the good-natured Estella to the vicious unforgiving Cruella.
Stone absolutely steals the show, bringing layers to one of Disney's most iconic and vile villainesses. I particularly enjoyed the story behind Cruella's hatred of Dalmatians. I'd hate Dalmatians too if I was in her shoes. Also, we get to see how Cruella met the bumbling thieves Horace (Hauser) and Jasper (Fry), who also get more character development. Emma Thompson is stellar as the evil and callous Baroness, the most powerful fashionista in London. The real star of the film is the epic 70's rock soundtrack from beginning to end.
Cruella was a happy surprise. When the first trailer dropped, I thought this film was going to be a complete disaster. It felt like Disney trying to remake Joker with their craziest villain. And while the film does have many elements of that film, it still stands on its own as a Disney film for a new generation.
I have to start by saying I have not been a huge fan of Disney’s recent decision to remake their classic library of animated films into live action. I was intrigued when Maleficent first came out and promise to explore different territory of these classic tales. It wasn’t long after, though, it was decided to ditch that idea and just do a carbon copy remake in live action. And my interest died with that decision. But then I saw the trailer for Cruella and my interest was back. It would be a prequel story on another Disney baddie with some pretty big names attached. The only question being how they would make a pretty despicable villain into a more sympathetic anti-hero. Easy, apparently. Fill the movie with great performances and costume design; hope the audience ignores the massive retconning.
While I will gladly applaud all the actors in this film for giving great performances, the brunt of the praise must go to both Emma Stone and Emma Thompson. The latter gives a chilling performance as the villain, the Baroness. She is cold as ice and delivers her lines with a more subtle approach instead of over-the-top mustache twirling, creating a more engaging villain. The former, though, steals the show from everyone as the iconic title character. Stone delivers an outstanding performance and commands your attention the entire time she’s on the screen. Considering the plot takes place in the fashion world, I have to also praise the out of this world costume design. Just like the actors’ performances tell us about their characters, the wardrobe enhances those characteristics. It’s that good. With all this said, there’s one thing which held this back for me. And that would be the retconning I mentioned earlier. Much of the title character’s more well-known villain traits are clearly absent to make her more sympathetic to the audience. Ultimately, this makes for a weird viewing when paired with the original film.
Retconning aside, this is the type of live action films based off their cartoons I’ve been wanting from Disney. The performances are great, particularly Stone and Thompson. And the costume design is some of the best in film. Now I just hope Disney keeps doing this instead of just more lazy carbon copy remakes. Except without the iconic music in some cases.