Disney continues their live-action adaptations, this time for the better, with a prequel about the famous villainess from 101 Dalmatians (1961), Cruella.
There is quite a fiasco when it comes to live-action Disney remakes. Most of them lack the original animation’s qualities and settle for nostalgia rather than crafting an improved product. Some of the better remakes include Cinderella (2015), The Jungle Book (2016), and Pete’s Dragon (2016). Now, you can add the newest incarnation, Cruella, to that small list.
Set in 1970s London amidst the grand punk-rock revolution, a young and creative grifter named Estella (Emma Stone) wants to make a name for herself with her fashion designs. On the hunt for more mischief, she befriends a pair of thieves, Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), and they start tormenting London’s streets with their tricks. One day, Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson) becomes intrigued with Estella’s knack for fashion. Estella and the Baroness don’t bond well, which starts a series of events that causes Estella to adopt a side of her seeking revenge, and that side’s name is Cruella de Vil.
The film feels like a combination of The Devil Wears Prada (2006), a crime caper and a cat-and-mouse story, an odd combination that is surprisingly interesting. In addition to the 70s punk aesthetic, it has a killer soundtrack consisting of artists like Blondie, The Clash, The Doors, and Supertramp, and it uses it quite well. There are great song choices overall, though the film could have benefited from more punk music.
Emma Stone sinks her teeth into the role as she seamlessly transforms from Estella to Cruella. Stone is calm and collected as Estella and spunky, sassy, and rude as Cruella. She gives the role her all and does better than expected. The filmmakers have somewhat humanised and cleansed Cruella to gain broader appeal and likeability, similar to what they did with Maleficent in her live-action outings. The result is a unique spin on Cruella while maintaining a family-friendly offering.
The entire cast seems to be having a lot of fun with their performances. Both Emmas, Stone and Thompson, are tremendously exciting to watch as they banter, pull hijinks, and go at each other’s throats. Whether it is hijacking a fashion show or stealing a trio of dalmatians, the film has unique ways to deliver scenes to excel the performances. Paul Walter Hauser is particularly enjoyable, despite having quite a bad British accent. Even more enjoyable are five scene-stealing CGI dogs, one of them an eye-patch-wearing chihuahua.
Although it has some good performances and flamboyant and beautiful costumes, Cruella feels like a mixed bag. Its way of switching the pacing and tone is slightly off. It is unbalanced yet still has some tricks up its sleeve to elevate it into a unique take on the classic villain we love to hate. While it’s not the best live-action Disney film, Cruella has a distinctive style, dazzling fun, and more creative liberty than the other adaptations.
When the first trailer was released, the film drew comparisons to Joker (2019). Both films take a famous villainous character and makes them into protagonists misunderstood by society.