Cruella (2021) Review
HELLO CRUEL WORLD!
In 1961, Walt Disney Studios, after the release of 1959’s Sleeping Beauty, released their 17th animated film titled 101 Dalmatians. Loosely based off the book of the same name Dodie Smith, the 79-minute animated film tells the story of a litter of dalmatian puppies who are kidnapped by a villainous woman named Cruella de Vil, who wants to make their fur into coats. The litter canine parents (Pongo and Perdita), set out to save their children from Cruella and in the process rescue 84 additional puppies that Cruella and her henchmen (Jasper and Horace) are holding captive. During its theatrical run, 101 Dalmatians was deemed a critical and finically success for the company; bring the studio out of its “money slump” due to the costly expensive of Sleeping Beauty and with the usage of inexpensive animation techniques. Years later, Disney would return to their 101 Dalmatian property by expanding upon its material for a franchise treatment, including a DTV (direct-to-video) animated sequel titled 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure in 2001, a two season (65 episode) TV series called 101 Dalmatian: The Series (1997-1998), and a live-action film adaptation titled 101 Dalmatians in 1996 and a follow-up sequel in 2000; both of which starred actress Glenn Close as Cruella. Now, Walt Disney Studios, under their current trend of reimaging their animated IPs into live-action treatment, and director Craig Gillespie present a live action prequel feature endeavor to the 101 Dalmatians franchise with the release of Cruella. Does this latest addition to Disney’s live-action remakes strike brilliances within its cinematic entertainment or does flashy and odd feature that never gets off the ground?
Born with eccentric black and white hair coloring and a since of getting into trouble, Estella (Emma Stone) is a mischievous girl, who watches her mother struggle to support the pair while pursing a aspiring dream in fashion design. Through peculiar string of events, Estella finds herself unexpectedly an orphan, forcing the child to make a life for herself on the streets of London. Thankfully, she finds friendship in a pair of thieving scoundrels, Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), spending the next decade becoming a grifting expert while nurturing her love of fashion with disguises to hoodwink people. One such a person that Estella charms is “The Baroness” (Emma Thompson), the top designer in Europe, with her creative skills and quickly becoming employed the fashion mogul, with hopes to work her way to fame. However, Estella quickly learns that the Baroness is an icy and vindictive woman who enjoys taking credit for the work of others, inspiring plans to topple her boss’s illustrious empire with the creation of an alter ego, Cruella, using her criminal ways to best her boss at publicity and style. However, while this rift soon becomes a war of high fashion and ego with Estella’s Cruella enjoying the fun, the young woman soon founds out that she is playing a very dangerous game.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As many of you guys (my readers) know…. I’m was and still am a big fan of Disney. Yes, some of their endeavors have been a little bit wonky and / or forgetful, but I believed that the “House of Mouse” has certainly made a name for themselves, especially in their animated feature films department. Growing up, I always remember watching Disney’s 101 Dalmatians movie as I found it to be quite entertaining as well as humorous. Naturally, I had some favorite characters in that movie (The Captain, The Colonel and Sergeant Tibbs), but there is no denying the fact that the cartoon’s most memorable character would have to be the story’s antagonist villian of Cruella de Vil. The attitude, the cackling laugh, the character design, and cruel nature of her demeanor definitely added flavor and making her quite endearing as a Disney villian. Also, actress Betty Lou Gerson completely nailed the voice of Cruella masterfully. I do remember when 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure came out, but I didn’t get a chance to see it as it didn’t look that interesting to me (i.e., another weak DTV release from Disney). That being said, I did get a chance to see the 1996 live-action adaptation of 101 Dalmatians as I found actress Glenn Close fantastic in the role of Cruella. Plus, I did like the supporting cast in the movie (Jeff Daniels, Joely Richardson, Hugh Laurie, etc.). In short, I think that the 101 Dalmatians story (done by Disney) is something that has quite a charming / endearing affect throughout the years, which is probably why Disney has kept on revisiting the property every now and again. As a side-note, I do remember watching cartoon TV series that came out during the late 90s and I thought it was okay. It had its moments, but was just adequate Disney cartoon TV series in my opinion.
Naturally, this brings me back to talking about Cruella, a 2021 film and Disney’s latest project in revamping / reimagining their animated feature films into live action cinematics. Of course, this brings up the fact of Disney reinventing its animated classics and, while the trend has been finically successful, some of these endeavors (especially recently) have been mediocre in their undertaking / execution. So, of course, I was a little bit skeptical when it was announced that a prequel project to the 101 Dalmatians narrative that was going to focus on Cruella’s origins. I kind of reminded me of how Disney did with 2014’s Maleficent in restructuring as well as a somewhat “kiddish” version of 2018’s Joker (i.e. showcasing the transformation of a villian). From the cast alone, which included Stone and Thompson), I was definitely interested in seeing Cruella when it was originally set to be released on December 23rd, 2020, but was delayed (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and reshuffled to May 2021. Additionally, because of the on-going effects of the pandemic, Disney announced that Cruella was going to be released on May 28th, 2021 in both “in theaters” and on Disney+ (premium access) simultaneously. So, I actually went to see the film in theaters with a couple of co-workers a week after its release and my review for it kind of got pushed back a bit. Now, I finally have the time to share my thoughts on this Disney movie. And what did I think of it? I loved it! Despite some minor nitpicks, I thought that Disney’s Cruella is a wickedly entertaining movie that fun, engaging, and visually stunning. It’s definitely a bit bonkers at times, but its easily one of the better Disney live-action reimaginings of late…..and that’s a good thing!
Cruella is directed by Craig Gillespie, whose previous directorial works includes such films like Million Dollar Arm, The Finest Hours, and I, Tonya. Given his background in directing, Gillespie makes Cruella his most ambitious project, especially since its both under the Disney banner as well as the latest trend of reimaging the studio’s classics into live-action remakes. In this regard, Gillespie really does succeed and makes quite an impressionable impact in this movie. Approaching the 101 Dalmatian material, Gillespie frames the feature with plenty to offer in terms of nostalgia to the 1961 animated Disney classic, but also makes this live-action iteration feel different and not a carbon copy of its original film; a trend that many of these Disney live-action remakes follow and falter upon. Instead, Cruella is presented (as mentioned above) as a prequel to the 101 Dalmatians story and is an origin story for the character of Cruella de Vil and paints the central character as more of the protagonist of the narrative yet in a different like. Naturally, this comes similar to what Disney tried to do with 2014’s Maleficent by portraying sinister sorceress from Sleeping Beauty in a different light with a sort of “another side, another story” motif. However, Cruella does a better job in handling the translation of good / bad character as well as striking a better tonal balance throughout the entire feature. Naturally, this comes from Gillespie’s direction for the project and balancing everything the right way. The film is rated PG-13 (in the US territory) and for good reason as they are a few darker / mature moments that Gillespie plays around with in Cruella, but it fills right and justly done in the right way, with the director balancing those moments with a few quipped comedic bits, character sensibility / charm, and stylish fashion presentations. Thus, in comparison to Maleficent, Cruella comes on top and is way better shaped and handled.
The story can be a bit of a hodgepodge and / or wonky at times (more on that below), but that is more in the fine tune of the feature’s script and not so much in the bulk. In general terms, the story of Cruella is your classic “coming of age” narrative path by seeing Estella transform / embracing her identity of Cruella and how she has to deal with the Baroness. While that form of storytelling is quite proven to work, Gillespie and his team keep the story fresh and entertaining with the heightened sense of fashion, style, and wardrobe apparel throughout the movie, which does play a central part of the film’s main storyline. Of course, there is also a cheeky notion to the whole movie, which plays a part of Cruella’s development and her relationship with Jasper and Horace as well as the Baroness’s icy demeanor and snooty quips. In addition, there is also plenty of nods and winks to the 101 Dalmatians story, which are scattered throughout the movie, so be sure to keep your out for them. All of this, under Gillespie’s directional banner, makes Cruella quite enjoyable and entertaining from start to finish; making the famous Disney villian feel both old and new at the same time…. a feat that Disney has been trying to do with their live-action remakes for quite some time, but really coming to fruition as much as it does in this film.
In its presentation, Cruella is visually stunning and glamorous treat to behold from start to finish. Whatever a viewer might think of this movie, one can not simply deny of flashy and glitzy the film’s visual appeal is and how its almost a character in the movie in its own right. From the background aspect, the movie shines exquisitely by embracing the glitz and glamour architecture motifs of the 70s in London, England (albeit a bit cinematically heightened), especially in some of the lavishing / luxurious interiors sections where the Baroness dwells. Thus, the efforts made by “behind the scene” members such as Fiona Crombie (production designs), Alice Felton and Amanda Willgrave (set decorations), and Martin Foley (art direction) for bringing the film’s background world to life in a fantastic style and beautiful cinematics. In addition, this includes the film’s cinematography work done by Nicolas Karakatsanis, which definitely has some slick camera angles and movements that capture some intriguing sequences, including a very neat sequence of showcasing the interior of a department store as well as some moments of Cruella and / or the Baroness characters.
Speaking fascinating style, Cruella’s main draw definitely has to come in the form of many lavishing and stylish costume designs. Yes, as always in a movie, costume apparel and design work is quite essential in making a good film; desiring a sense of believability to the story. Since the story of Cruella centers around fashion, the costume design for the movie has to be stellar and I do have to say that its an absolute marvel to behold. Rather than just hiring costume designer, Disney / Gillespie selected Jenny Beavan to design Cruella’s costume wardrobe. While Beavan isn’t a household name that many might not know of, you’ll definitely know of her work from her costume designs on such various films such as Alexander, Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, The King’s Speech, Gosford Park, and Mad Max: Fury Road just to name a few. With over 43 years of experience in creating costumes for cinematic tales, Beavan has made her mark on the industry and certainly does so again with Cruella being her more vibrant and visually stylish in the fashion scene department / apparel. The loud and colorful and stunning costume outfits that both Cruella and the Baroness wear are just absolutely amazing to see and have that artistic flair to it that makes it a eye-popping delight. I can really go on and on and on about the outfits, but its just best to watch the movie for yourself and see all the dazzling costumes that the Beavan dreams up for Cruella. Heck, even some of the simpler and toned-down costumes for the various supporting characters are so quite detailed and believable; fitting nicely into the 70s era scene of British London. All in all, Beavan’s work is exquisite and top-notch in Cruella, with many of the costumes themselves being a character in their own right. I definitely hoping (and excepting) that Beavan to be nominated (and hopefully win) for Best Costume Designs at the upcoming award shows.
Lastly, while the film’s score, which was composed by Nicholas Britell, is really good as a solid musical film composition for the feature (i.e., hitting all the right emotional and dialogue driven moments correctly), the true musical star of Cruella is in its soundtrack by ways and means of its song selection, which (like its main character) is wickedly fun to listen to. Theirs is a plethora of songs played in the movie, with most being played to perfectly compliment the various scenes that the playing in. From Nina Simone, to The Doors, to The Zombies, to Nancy Sinatra, and to Deep Purple, Cruella offers a killer soundtrack that is great!
There wasn’t much that I didn’t like about Cruella, so most of these criticisms that I have written are going to be minor ones. Perhaps the largest concern that I have with the movie is in the feature’s runtime. Clocking in at around 134 minutes (two hours and fourteen minutes), Cruella is considered a long movie and it’s kind of does feel like that. I thought that one point the movie was going to end after the reveal of a big revelation and setting up a sequel type endeavor, but the film just continued to extended itself for a grander finale set-piece, which lasted for another fifteen minutes. I get where Gillespie and his team were going with this (as well as sequences of glitzy and glamour), but I felt that Cruella could’ve been trimmed down the movie to a leaner runtime of say two hours flat. It’s not a disaster by no means, but the film does feel quite long.
Additionally, I felt that the story is a bit wonky at times and seems to be pulling from a variety of source material. Again, the main draw comes from the 101 Dalmatians story, but (much like the film’s trailer showcases), Cruella shows a bit something like 2019’s Joker that has been Disney-ified by it for its viewers. Of course, the comparison is there and does shows similarities; finding Estella’s descendent into a more sinister character in her Cruella persona to be the main focus…. much like Joker. Even if one dismisses that notion, the film does seem to draw inspiration from both 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada and 2018’s The Favourite; drumming up a sense of fashion, a cold-hearted boss, and a rivalry for attention. This becomes a bit clearer, especially since the movie’s script /story was penned by Aline Brosh McKenna (who penned The Devil Wears Prada) and Tony McNamara (who penned The Favourite) as well as other screenplay writers such as Dana Fox, Kelly Marcel, and Steve Zissis. Because of this, Cruella story has that “too many cooks in the kitchen” notion, which is why the narrative can be a wonky and odd to some degrees as well borrowing ideas from other properties. Thus, Cruella does seem a little bit of hodgepodge of ideas, but it is something ultimately works in the feature’s favor. That being said, it definitely could’ve been ironed out and better written than what was presented.
Looking beyond those points of criticism, Cruella does have impressive cast, with a strong selection of actors and actresses to play the film’s various characters (both major and minor ones). I do have to say that none of them give bad performances and most give their one or two moments in the spotlight. That being said, the movie does bring its focus on its central protagonist and antagonist, who are both played masterfully by talented actresses Emma Stone and Emma Thompson. Stone, who is known for her roles in The Help, La La Land, and Easy A, has certainly made a name for herself in recently years; transforming from the various roles she has played in teen movies into a young and upcoming star in Hollywood, especially after The Help. Cruella is the next step in her career and the actress is incredible in the role; finding Stone having a “grand time” in playing both a visually stunning character (i.e., larger-than-life) and juicy one of both Estella / Cruella personalities. Stone definitely seems to embrace the idea of such a character as Cruella and does perform many of the iconic looks and antics of the villainous character we’ve all come to love (i.e., reckless driving, eye-rolling over idiotic imbeciles, cracking a wicked smile with her laughter, etc.). It’s all there and Stone relishes such sequences and does it with style. That’s not to say is equally impressive in her role of Estella, who is struggling to find her place in the world and adds that since of youthful fun and energy whenever display. However, the movie is about the transformation of Estella into Cruella, so there are moments scattered throughout the film where the flashy grandiosity / boldness is fully embraced in showcasing a inner diva of sorts. All in all, Stone is terrific as both Estella and Cruella and definitely deserve a ton of credit for making the film’s central character quite a memorable performance. As a side-note, young actress Tipper Seifert-Cleveland (Krypton and Call the Midwife) is terrific as the younger iteration of Estella.
Similarly, Thompson, known for her roles in Saving Mr. Banks, Late Night, and Sense and Sensibility, is remarkable as the Baroness, a cold-hearted and narcissistic woman of power and fashion. Unlike the character of Cruella, the character of the Baroness is fully developed villian (as she is the antagonist of the story) and is quite vicious individual of glamour and wickedness. She’s a more subtle villian….no dramatic laughs or shouts and Thompson is great in pulling that off; chewing through her scenes with effortless ease and gleeful fun as a sort of “Ice Queen” architype villian. Plus, the script, flawed as it is, gives Thompson a plethora of witty sayings and remarks, which handles masterfully by the actresses timing and delivery of dialogues. Whether she’s being cruel or just simply snooty, Thompson’s lines are definitely the highlight of the feature. The only minor complaint I have about the Baroness character is that one can easily compare the character to Meryl Streep’s performance of Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, but I guess that does with the territory, especially since both narratives focus on an icy-cold boss in the high-stakes world of fashion. However, that is merely a minor quibble. Regardless, Thompson is sinisterly fantastic as the Baroness is impeccable in her timing, delivery, and fully embracing the fully formed villainess in Cruella. She’s definitely a treat to watch from onset to conclusion.
Of the larger supporting players in the movie, the characters of Jasper and Horace, who are played by actors Joel Fry (Game of Thrones and 10,000 BC) and Paul Walter Hauser (Richard Jewell and I, Tonya), make for enjoyable and entertaining sidekicks to Estella / Cruella throughout the movie. Of the two, Fry’s Jasper seems to have the more rooted complexity within this wickedly fresh reimagining of Cruella’s story. How so? Well, unlike the commonplace depiction of Jasper in the 101 Dalmatian iterations, the character is much more than a lackey to Cruella; finding Fry’s acting ability charming and adding an extra layer of warmth as well as hinting that Jasper and Cruella are more than just “partners in crime”. However, this notion is quite subtle in Cruella’s story and never goes the route of being distraction or unnecessary subplot. Thus, the character of Jasper is indeed a sort of “breath of fresh air” as a side character and gives more of moral balance in watching Estella change into her more wicked iteration of Cruella. For Hauser, the actor is more delegated to being the more comical one (as to be expected from Disney’s animated counterpart) with Horace and really does do a great job; bringing plenty of humorous bits and jokes throughout the film as well adding a bit of lightheartedness, especially when coupled with his canine co-star Wink, a small dog with an eyepatch. Additionally, much like the younger iteration of Cruella, young actors Ziggy Gardner and Joseph MacDonald do a good job in the roles of the younger iterations of Jasper and Horace, even though their screen time is a bit limited.
The rest of the cast, including actor Mark Strong (Kingsman: The Secret Service and Zero Dark Thirty) as the Baroness main valet attendant John, actor John McCrea (Girl / Haji and Everybody’s Talking about Jamie) as vintage fashion shop owner / designer Artie (or Art as in “work of” …. haha, I love that line), actress Emily Beecham (Outside the Wire and Into the Badlands) as Estella’s mother Catherine Miller, actor Andrew Leung (Liting and Containment) as the Baroness’s assistant Jeffery, actress Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Barry and The Good Place) as gossip columnist writer Anita, and actor Kayvan Novak (What We Do in the Shadows and Danger Mouse) as Roger, are made up of supporting players in Cruella. All of these acting talents do give solid performances in their respective roles, but I do have to say that Strong and McCrea have their largest minor supporting roles in the movie and make the lasting impression of this roster.
Born brilliant, born bad, and a little bit mad….as Estella’s journey truth, self-discovery, and revenge molds her into being who she was meant to be in the movie Cruella. Director Craig Gillespie latest film takes the central main villain of the 101 Dalmatians story and reimagines the devilishly wicked Cruella de Vil in prequel origin story; painting a different light on the villian and playing around with who is she and how she came to be (i.e. throwing a different shade on the baddie). While the film’s runtime is a bit lengthy and several borrowed ideas are a bit wonky in the story, the movie itself is spectacular and wickedly fun to watch, especially thanks to Gillespie’s direction, a solid premise, a quality sense of fashion and style, good visuals in its presentation, a killer soundtrack, and terrific cast, with notable / memorable performances from both Stone and Thompson. Personally, I loved this movie. Yes, there were a few minor parts that were odd and have that “been there, done that” notion, but the whole movie was great and I thoroughly enjoyed. Stone and Thompson were amazing in the movie and the costumes / soundtrack were spot on. I actually decided to purchase the premium access for the movie on Disney+, so I’ve already seeing Cruella many times since I initially see it. It’s just that good. As you can imagine, my recommendation for the movie is a impressive “highly recommended” as it sure will delight Disney fans out there and even most of the casual moviegoers out there. Due to the positive reviews and success of the film, there is talk of a sequel being made in the near future. I’ll be interested to see where the “next chapter” for Cruella will go and how it will connect with this movie and its 101 Dalmatian counterpart. Only time will tell. In the end, while some of Disney’ s recent works in reimagining their animated classics into live-action narratives are a bit rocky and questionable, Cruella stands tall and proud as definitely one of the better (if not the best) entries in this endeavor; producing a wickedly fun and lavishing stunning feature that honors its original source material, but also can stand on its own visually and memorable merits to like. Just like Cruella says in the movie…. “Anyway, must dash. Much to avenge, revenge, and destroy. But I do love you. Always!”
4.5 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: May 28th, 2021
Reviewed On: June 13th, 2021
Cruella is 134 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for some violence and thematic elements