Cruella follows the titular character on her journey to the Dalmatian-hating fashionista that we all know and love to hate from her One Hundred and One Dalmatians days.
Emma Stone offers a portrayal that is nuanced and considered, revelling in the many facets of who she is while also playing up the unapologetic dramatics that define the iconic character. The main example is that for a chunk of the story Cruella is retelling it to the audience.
Cruella is the owner of her own story, retelling events directly to the audience as the camera leads us through. Its immersive quality lends its central figure agency, and director Craig Gillespie leans towards dramatic sweeps and slow-motion shots, contrasted with sharper cuts and shakier frames for the story’s more emotional moments. It colours every frame with a sense of who Cruella is.
The music choices also follow a similar pattern. Truly immersed in the 1970s, the music choice reflects the times and the film’s energy alike, making fantastic use of tracks by The Doors, Nina Simone, and Nancy Sinatra.
It is interesting to see the type of story that Disney opted to tell here: something that was both emotional and sympathetic, yet still built up to be the origin story of one of the most recognisable villains in the entirety of the Disney canon. Cruella never really shies away from the darkness, which is refreshing to see. While you may sympathise with and understand the motivations of Cruella, you are not being swayed to think the actions are permissible. Yet still you watch, transfixed and in awe.
Stone’s take on the character is brilliant. She balances the egos of Cruella, dark and twisted and revenge-driven, and Estella, the girl who lost her mum and was just trying to do her best. And though her English accent is mildly questionable – leaning very heavily into ‘posh’ territory, which might suit her character but does not fit her situation – watching her play these two roles is endlessly enjoyable.
The Baroness, played by Emma Thompson, also amazes. She plays a cold-hearted, fashion designer akin to Miranda Priestley of The Devil Wears Prada. She is diabolical and nightmarish, and an absolute joy to watch on screen. Meanwhile, the characters of Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) are also welcome additions to this adaption. Cruella’s henchmen in the cartoon are bumbling and comedic, and they remain much the same here, yet there’s an honest rounding out of their characters. You understand how they relate Cruella and why they choose to stick around, as the narratives consolidates their relationship beyond the ‘angry boss and idiotic underlings’ dynamic. Add to that the character of Artie (John McCrea) – “Art as in work of Art” – who, from the first second spent on screen, wins over the audience with his campy, mischievous streak, and you Cruella has itself a highly engrossing, empathetic, and hilariously entertaining ensemble.
Cruella is a fascinating take on the classic villain. There are moments of humanity and honesty woven into this origin story, but never does one feel like she is being redrawn as the ‘good guy’. She is just the better devil in a hellish situation. The direction, music, costumes, and set design all work in tandem to create a feeling of over-the-top glamour, drama and absurdity to make this a film worthy of Cruella De Vil.
Cruella is in cinemas now, and available on Disney+ Premium.