Let me be clear, on paper, I had ZERO interest in this movie. I haven’t seen the animated 101 Dalmations since childhood and I never spent any time on the live-action versions with Glenn Close either, so an origin story for a Disney cartoon villain didn’t move the needle. However, I got a lot more than I bargained for in Cruella.
The trailer did a fabulous job showcasing the film’s powerful visual aesthetic. Whether it be the interior of an abandoned flat or the design room of a fashion empire, Fiona Crombie’s production design was stunning in conjunction with Alice Felton’s sets. Naturally, a movie with an emphasis on fashion has to have some stellar costumes, and Jenny Beaven over-delivered. She must have had so much fun because the craft, creativity, and effort from the costume department are on full display. It’s going to be a tall task for any other film to compete.
Even though I wasn’t initially interested, the look drew me in. Maybe it’s because I had the bar set pretty low, but this movie was incredibly impressive and enjoyable on a number of levels while easily being the most fun I’ve had since going back to the movies.
While a fairly straight line comparison can be drawn between The Devil Wears Prada and Craig Gillespie’s new Disney film, it feels much more at home as a spiritual piece of Tim Burton’s Batman franchise. Taking place mostly in 70s London, the story follows a young woman who was orphaned as a child as she tries to live up to her mother’s (Emily Beecham) hopes. The whole aesthetic is incredibly gothic, with black dominating the color palette throughout the movie. Plus, there are several moments of punk-rock performance art that are spot-on Joker-esque. None of that is a coincidence. It is a villain origin story, after all, and a damn good one at that.
Dana Fox and Tony McNamara’s screenplay focused on a trio of orphans as the foundation for building character sympathy and it works very well as you feel camaraderie and kinship between Estella/Cruella, Jasper, and Horace. Throw in a smartly written villain in the Baroness and it’s not difficult to get on board with the journey, the rivalry, and ultimately the plot to usurp her throne.
I know getting Emma Stone was a huge piece of the film’s appeal and its success, and she stepped into the titular role with incredible confidence and powerful energy, but the movie wouldn’t have reached the heights it did without the brilliant performance from Emma Thompson as the Baroness. She’s cold, calculating, and ruthless in all the right ways. I can’t stress enough how pitch-perfect she is and it’s not at all crazy to say she could take home Best Supporting Actress.
The supporting cast is all very strong, like Mark Strong. It’s a smaller role than I anticipated for him as the Baroness’ right-hand man, but it’s very much tailored to his paternal qualities as we’ve seen in the Kingsman movies. Paul Walter Hauser showed incredible range and leaned into his comedy chops as Horace while Joel Fry brought a lot of heart to his portrayal of Jasper. There’s a bit of budding romance as he appears to pine for Estella and it helps fuel the narrative choices.
Even with a lengthy runtime, there wasn’t enough time for everything. I would have liked to see more of John McCrea’s David Bowie-esque Artie, who was a wisely placed counter-culture character. McCrea’s performance had an undeniable charisma and the character design is strong enough to support a stand-alone narrative in 70s era London.
Kudos to Music Supervisor Susan Jacobs who nailed down a fantastic soundtrack also. Considering the nature of the story and the setting, I would have liked to see some Sex Pistols, Stooges, or Ramones represented but it’s still a highly enjoyable soundtrack from top to bottom.
Good for franchise fans and newcomers, Cruella hits all the right notes and it’s no surprise to see a sequel is already in the pre-production stages.
Recommendation: If you’re on the fence and don’t think this would be your kind of movie, it’s worth reconsidering as Cruella is one of 2021’s best offerings.