You’d be forgiven for thinking that Cruella is a cheap cash-grab movie which is shamelessly cashing-in on the well-known name of one of Disney’s most iconic villains. Fortunately, that is not the case and Cruella is a movie with some great performances, an interesting story and plenty of potential for this character and others like her.
Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians is not a character you can empathise with or ever want to see succeed so the movie had its work cut out from the outset: making Cruella a heroine in her own tale. Luckily, the opening scenes do this very well, giving Cruella a dark and tragic back story which not only sets her up as a character we can root for but also establishes the well known “partnership” she has with 101 Dalmatians characters Horace and Jasper.
What then follows is not necessarily the movie you’d expect. Cruella’s main plot is about two fashion powerhouses trying to outdo each other. One is Emma Thompson’s The Baroness, who is the established fashion icon who ruthlessly oversees London fashion while the other is Cruella herself, attempting to make a name for herself in the fashion world while also ruining The Baroness in the process.
Needless to say, this is not where you thought a Cruella prequel would take you but it makes for a really interesting story with plenty of decent twists and clever turns. It also gives the movie opportunity for some striking visuals, from the fantastic fashion which Cruella uses at each turn through to the theatrical set-pieces which feel more like performance art than fashion shows, all framing Cruella as an exciting new prospect in the fashion world and pitting her squarely against the villain of this movie, Thompson’s The Baroness.
The movie also does a very good job of explaining how Cruella will go from the kind-hearted well meaning Estella that we meet at the beginning of the movie to the ruthless and cold Cruella that we are left with at the end. In fact, the movie sets-up aspects of the original Dalmatians story we know so well, from the relationship with Horace and Jasper, the desire for a Dalmatian coat through to even how she gets her name in the first place.
Of course, none of this would work if the characters weren’t interesting and this is where the casting is a masterstroke. Emma Stone plays Cruella brilliantly and the transformation previously mentioned happens so gradually that you still root for the iconic villain even when she is full-blown “de Vil.” One scene where Cruella, now on the evil side of the character, talks to her deceased Mother through a fountain shows the fine balance between the ruthless dog-napper and the hero of the story we want to see succeed and Stone manages this balancing-act perfectly.
The reason we want to see her succeed is because Emma Thompson plays The Baroness so unquestionably evil. She is a character you despise from the moment she comes on-screen but relish the way she speaks to her employees and chastises department store owners. Thompson is clearly loving every moment and the venom she leaves hanging in the air as she speaks makes her a fun character to watch. It also means that you desperately want to see her get her comeuppance and see Cruella prove victorious, even if it means creating the villain from 101 Dalmatians in the process.
The movie doesn’t always work though and some of that is in the way the characters are written. Horace and Jasper from the original animated movie and other versions since have always been bumbling idiots but here they are portrayed as effective thieves with a conscience. Their relationship, gladly, is one with some heart and depth but it jars with what we know they will become in the story later.
The same can be said for other Easter Egg style hints at future characters or future events. A mid-credit sequence is fun and a nice nod to the future but doesn’t really work if any logic is applied to it. There are also choices with the story too, especially a third act revelation which is necessary for the story but stretches the plot’s credibility slightly and makes aspects of the tale seem slightly too “easy.”
Overall, Cruella is the perfect way to deliver a prequel story for an iconic Disney character. It is a story which could stand-alone, not linked to the Disney world, and still work well, centred around two amazing performances from Stone and Thompson. It successfully plugs the gaps between this movie and 101 Dalmatians but sometimes this seems clunky and unfortunately, the story takes a leap too far for the finale to work.
Rating – 4.5
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