Rating: B (Good)
Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Walt Disney Studios
Among the many iconic Disney villains, Cruella de Vil stands out for a few reasons. Chief among them is how absolutely cold-hearted her plan is. The idea of killing ninety-nine puppies to create a fur coat for herself is utterly despicable. Thus, the decision to make a live-action film detailing her origin is a curious one. After a slow start, the film eventually finds its footing as director Craig Gillespie revels in showing the 1970s fashion scene in London and the head-to-head battle between a mogul and an aspiring upstart. As led by delicious performances from Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, Cruella ends up being quite entertaining.
The film is at its least effective when showing Cruella de Vil as a child, as it appears the filmmakers might portray this attempted dog killer in a sympathetic light. It’s hard to escape the knowledge of her later evil deeds, as portrayed in the animated film and by Glenn Close in the ‘90s live-action film. However, the 101 Dalmatians story has been retconned so many times by Disney, it’s to be expected at this point things would be altered. People also aren’t born evil, but rather become evil based on life experiences. Cruella picks up once Emma Stone makes her on-screen entrance and the movie becomes almost like a heist film as we watch Cruella, Horace and Jasper plot their escapades.
The best scenes involve Cruella going up against her boss, the Baroness. Thompson plays her with the required bite and makes her truly despicable. The film has us strangely rooting for Cruella to succeed in getting the Baroness off her high horse. With the rise in stories coming out about toxic workplaces and a rejection against cruel bosses, their scenes together resonate in another way. One doesn’t know the turmoil and effect such abusive behaviour can have on somebody and it could very well come back to bite them, if they’re not careful. Meanwhile, Gillespie has fun with recreating the high-end fashion trends common in England at the time. A large amount of credit goes to Jenny Beavan, who creates a wide variety of unique costumes.
Emma Stone is the star of the show, though. In the years since her break-out role in Superbad, she has become one of the most exciting young actresses working in Hollywood today. Even though there are flashes of her role in The Favourite here, she still brings something new to the table in playing Cruella de Vil. She effectively shows the character’s transformation and she has a ton of fun digging into her evil side. For fans of 101 Dalmatians, there are the expected nods and references and it is nice to see Anita and Roger pop up prior to their meeting. Those looking forward to hearing the iconic “Cruella de Vil” song will have to wait until the middle of the end credits, though.
Cruella is able to expand on the famous villain, while also understanding what made her so memorable in past appearances. That this is the sixth time Disney has provided a take on the 101 Dalmatians story shows how lasting and appealing Dodie Smith’s original book is, especially her creation of Cruella de Vil. Craig Gillespie provides something for everyone, whether they’re a fan of the property, someone looking for an exploration of the fashion world or an entertaining heist film. The movie leaves the door open for more escapades with Emma Stone as Cruella and there are a lot of intriguing possibilities the filmmakers could go down, including the crime that would turn her into every dog’s worst nightmare.