Most of us know the story of 101 Dalmatians and remember the main antagonist of the film, Cruella de Vil; how could you forget her? The iconic theme song, black and white hair, unique fashion sense, the Panther De Ville car, her vengeful nature, and her obsession with Dalmatians. Your first exposure to this character was either in the 1956 novel, Walt Disney’s classic animated film from 1961, or even the live-action adaptation that was released in 1996. With all these adaptations, the one thing we never learned was this woman became the villainous Cruella de Vil.
Walt Disney Pictures’ Cruella aims to change that, with Oscar-winner Emma Stone portraying the teenage Estella “Cruella” de Vil, a gifted and aspiring fashion designer in 1970s London. Estella’s talent grabs the attention of the Baroness, a fashion legend played by two-time Oscar-winner Emma Thompson, and the partnership does not blossom into a fruitful one causing Estella to become the wicked, vengeful Cruella de Vil that we all know.
If you’re expecting an origin story for an evil fashion designer who kills dogs for her coat, think again; Disney decided to flip the script with this portrayal.. Stone delivers a spectacular performance, one that’s sure to get her some Oscar buzz as she delivered a brilliant character study, reinventing the iconic villain. Thompson also shines as The Baroness, a fashion designer who’s known for her lavish dresses and her vicious cruelty, aka the film’s antagonist. Stone and Thompson share a potent on-screen chemistry and energy.
Speaking of these two Oscar-winners and their amazing back-and-forth work as Cruella and The Baroness, battling it out to be seen as the best fashion designer, one has to imagine that Cruella will be a shoo-in for Best Costume Design as well. Jenny Beavan’s vision for this film is nothing short of stunning. Not only were the costumes breathtaking, but the way the film presented them enhanced each outfit to a whole other level.
Cruella begins in 1964, where a rebellious schoolgirl named Estella is battling bullies on a consistent basis, leading to a horrific tragedy that shapes her life moving forward. Ten years later, we are reintroduced to Estella, who has turned to a life of crime, becoming a master at pickpocketing alongside her friends Horace and Jasper.
While Cruella gains points for Stone’s transformation from Estella to Cruella—highlighting powerful themes of identity and being who you truly are that run throughout the film—it is not a perfect movie, starting with some pacing issues in the first act. As the film builds, you’re anxiously waiting to finally see Cruella, but there’s a drag before we arrive at the reveal. Once Estella claims her power and transforms into Cruella, the film takes off, with Stone stealing every scene by her presence alone. And though this was an origin story, it didn’t do a great job establishing Cruella’s well-known hatred for Dalmatians. Seeds are planted, but the audience doesn’t get to see them manifest into what we know Cruella’s canine disdain would become. By the end of the movie, you’re left wondering why Cruella would ever go to the extreme of hunting and killing dogs for her own personal coat. The way the character is portrayed, she doesn’t have bad intentions and doesn’t want to hurt anyone; Cruella just wants to make a statement and leave people in awe of her work. She’s not a monster, she’s an artist.
The supporting cast was strong as well with Paul Walter Hauser and Joel Fry taking on the roles of Horace and Jasper. They did a great job in serving the story as Estella’s support system, keeping her from becoming something she wasn’t. They were also accompanied by their two adorable dogs, Buddy and Wink, who definitely stole some scenes. It would have been great to see them throughout the film, but with the focus primarily being on Estella’s transformation into Cruella, those scene-stealers had to make a quick exit.
Cruella is one of Disney’s better live-action adaptations, reinventing one of their most malicious villains in an original and entertaining way, allowing fans to gain you a deeper appreciation for the villainous fashion queen. Be sure to stick around after the film’s done, as there’s a huge post-credits teaser that gives us a glimpse at what could be the future of the franchise.