Ever wondered why the glamorous fashionista turned out as cruel as she did? Disney returns once more with another villain origin story, this time creating a backstory for the universally hated but remarkably dressed dog killer, Cruella De Vil from Disney’s 101 Dalmatians. It can often feel as though there is an oversaturation of Disney content being released, but this is a live action telling that you don’t want to miss out on, as Cruella triumphs, a dog’s hair above the rest. It is a story of life and birth of Cruella and her former self, Estella, both performed marvellously by the Academy Award winner Emma Stone, with enough glitz, glam and drama to hold your attention throughout.
We follow Estella as a child, struggling to behave at school and, well, fit in. The words ‘Cruella’ and ‘fit in’ seem unable to coexist, and this becomes an ongoing problem for the young fashionista. Falling on hard times, she travels to London, becomes a petty thief in order to survive and lands a dream job at her most beloved designer shop. The two members of her chosen family, Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (Joel Fry) act as great comic relief for Cruella’s vengeant escapades, though even they become weary of her antics. What could possibly go wrong?
In true Disney fashion, it reads like a modern fairytale, with a tragic family backstory and an evil stepmother-like figure, equally inspiring and frightening. The Baroness embodies the true failings of the fashion industry, the cutthroat competition and the presence of the ego above all else. An absolute triumph of a performance from Emma Thompson breathes an air of life and danger to the story, showcasing that acting heartless and looking stunning can be achieved, seemingly flawlessly. If you think Cruella is bad, just wait until you see the works of the Baroness. No one can command a room nor present a garment quite like she can – well, no one other than her future rival in fashion.
Image is everything, darling. And Cruella is an absolute wonderland of gowns and garments, enough for any fashion devotee to be in awe of. The costume designer team, made up of Jenny Beavan and Tom Davies deserve the most honourable of mentions, as a film showcasing endless amounts of glamour would inevitably fall flat without such a gorgeous array of outfits to gawk over.
Anita Darling’s character is one that can unfortunately bring about a level of discomfort. Kirby Howell-Baptiste plays a beautiful role, but it is a trope that once again presents the exploitation of the black best friend, with no storyline of their own but merely a character in which to move the plot along and aid the protagonist. Every now and then Disney make choices to appear as though they are moving towards being more inclusive and providing better representation, but it is obvious that they still have a long way to go.
Emma Stone’s performance grounds the piece throughout, even through the clichèd dialogue and conventional narrative tropes. It has to be understood that Disney comes with an established, universal storytelling style, but she has the ability to add in just enough flavour to really sell it. Even when the film struggles to find its pacing in the beginning, Stone picks up the slack and gives a killer performance, aiding the film’s momentum.
Cruella is an amalgamation of what the fashion industry and her own grief has driven her to. She is multifaceted, compelling but not entirely pitiful, something that the piece excels at. She is an icon to challenge the currently established powers at play, especially during a time period in which many traditional ways of behaving were being rewritten by the younger generation.
With enough steady twists and turns to keep you engaged throughout, albeit an unnecessarily long runtime, Cruella is a firecracker of entertainment, with enough stunts, fashion shows and adorable dogs to keep anyone intrigued. Amongst the rivalry, revenge and remarkable gowns, what’s not to love? If you’re looking for a lively and bold fairytale with a killer soundtrack, then this just might be the film for you.
Cruella will release simultaneously in theatres and on Disney+ with Premier Access for a onetime additional fee on Friday, May 28, 2021.