Review: Cruella

Cruella (2021)

Director: Craig Gillespie

Writers: Dana Fox, Tony McNamara, Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel, and Steve Zissis

Starring: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, and Mark Strong

Plot: A young Cruella De Vil develops a villainous streak as she works to upstage her fashion rival.

Review: Man, there are few things as unpredictable as a Disney live action remake. Or, at least, whether it’s going to be good or bad. They’ve pretty much covered the spectrum to me. From some of the worst movies I’ve seen (Alice in Wonderland) to pleasant diversions (The Lion King) to some truly great movies that stand on their own (The Jungle Book). So, honestly, I never really know how to feel going into one. Cruella was especially hard to predict. The trailers looked fantastic, but, to me, they bombed so hard with translating Maleficent that I thought there’s no way it could be good. I’m glad I was wrong. Because Cruella is a really fun, wicked ride.

Most important thing first, I actually felt that Cruella stayed true to her character. Unlike in Maleficent, they didn’t turn her into some kind of behind the scenes hero. Sure. She’s a bit more sympathetic than she has been in previous iterations, but I never thought they went quite far enough to make you believe she’s a good person. She’s still rotten to her core. Even when you see her as a young kid, she’s constantly causing mischief. Even if she does feel a bit of guilt. The fun comes from watching that guilt start to fade as she becomes more and more the villainous icon we all know and love. There’s even one particularly evil crime that she’s accused of and, at first, you’re not quite sure if she actually did it. It’s honestly believable that she would, which is a huge testament to how sinister this movie was actually able to get. By the end, you can definitely see how this character and the animated version are the same person.

The portrayal of these characters is spot on as well. (No pun intended.) You can tell that Emma Stone is having the time of her life playing Cruella. She absolutely nailed everything about the character. She’s got the swagger, the pompous attitude, the laugh, the accent, the smirk, everything. She looks and acts like she came right off of the animator’s page. (The only thing noticeably absent is the cigarette.) Yet, it’s more toned down than Glenn Close’s iconic performance from the 90s. While that was campy in all the right ways, Stone’s does feel a bit more grounded. Like she could exist in the real world. It’s quite the achievement.

Honestly though, everyone in this movie did a fantastic job. Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser absolutely crush as Jasper and Horace. And it wasn’t just their lines or actions. It was their body language. The way Jasper sort of hunches over to talk to someone shorter than him. The way Horace waddles instead of just walking. It’s the little things like that which make me happy. I’ve seen the original more times than I care to admit. (It’s one of my comfort Disney movies.) So to see my two favorite goofy sidekicks preformed so passionately and accurately when they could’ve been just throw away characters makes my heart soar. Likewise, all of the new characters were welcome additions. Emma Thompson as the mentor/rival/bigger bad that turns the big bad bad was terrific. I loved the way she chewed the scenery. She’s so cold, vile and heartless. Every moment she was on screen, I was smiling. But, the cast list is so strong that even the third or fourth rate sidekicks were highlights. Even the smallest of parts got to shine here.

My adoration for this movie doesn’t stop at the cast though. Fittingly, the movie has a ton of style. And I don’t just mean fashion wise. It’s got this punk rock 1970s aesthetic that just feels great. Think David Bowie, Queen or Hedwig and the Angry Inch and you’re pretty much there. The look, the feel, the soundtrack? All top notch. It’s an environment that I absolutely loved spending time in. This movie is just overflowing with glamorous shots, especially as Cruella is trying to get her name out there. She works as a performance artist, crashing high class fashion events in elaborate manners while wearing some killer outfits. She’s a troll but she looks damn good doing it. Speaking of, there’s no way this movie isn’t AT LEAST nominated for both Best Costume Design and Best Makeup and Hairstyling at next year’s Oscars. Because these looks are jaw dropping. But, I mean… what else would you expect in a movie based on Cruella De Vil, right?

So, like I’ve said, I really dug a lot about Cruella. I thought it was a really good villain origin story. Unfortunately, it does suffer a bit from prequelitis. Like most prequel movies, it suffers from cameos, over explaining, and foreshadowing that really didn’t need to be there. Some of the stuff in her origin didn’t bother me so much, but others made me cringe. Hard. Without going into it too much, Dalmatians should not have made an appearance in this movie at all. It’s completely unnecessary. It reeks of someone trying way too hard to remind you of the first movie. And Cruella’s connection to this particular breed of dog is absolutely laughable. I don’t want to spoil anything, but that tie-in alone was almost enough to knock it down a point on my rating scale. Then, there’s a mid-credit scene that just makes it worse. Like, it contradicts the first movie it’s so bad. They really should’ve just let this movie stand on it’s own. Don’t even reference the animated version. It’s fine. We don’t need the fan service. Luckily, these moments are small enough that they didn’t ruin the movie for me.

Overall though, I really enjoyed Cruella. I thought it was a fun, wicked, kick-ass movie. I was surprised with how well they captured the essence of the character without really pulling any punches. Plus, the tone was pitch perfect and super stylish. There are a few things that don’t really work, but those are minor details. I’d still definitely say that you should check it out, especially if you love 101 Dalmatians as much as I do.

Score: 7.5/10 (Good, Almost Great)

(I’ve don’t usually do .5s but both neither 7 or 8 felt right.)

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