We all know Disney is the absolute master at turning tragedy into triumph. And CRUELLA, its latest film featuring the iconic villain of the beloved 1961 classic “101 Dalmatians,” is no exception.
This origin story gives the tea on how Cruella de Vil a.k.a. Estella, portrayed with magnificent dualism by Emma Stone, comes to be known as the infamous antihero and answers several questions you didn’t realize you needed like, “Is Cruella really as cruel as we’re originally led to believe?” “What happened to her as a child to propel her into infamy?” And “Did she really want to make a coat out of those Dalmatians?”
Here’s the official synopsis: “Cruella,” which is set in 1970s London amidst the punk rock revolution, follows a young grifter named Estella, a clever and creative girl determined to make a name for herself with her designs. She befriends a pair of young thieves who appreciate her appetite for mischief, and together they are able to build a life for themselves on the London streets. One day, Estella’s flair for fashion catches the eye of the Baroness von Hellman, a fashion legend who is devastatingly chic and terrifyingly haute, played by two-time Oscar® winner Emma Thompson (“Howards End,” “Sense & Sensibility”). But their relationship sets in motion a course of events and revelations that will cause Estella to embrace her wicked side and become the raucous, fashionable, and revenge-bent Cruella.
From its black and white with a Disney red logo opening to its intro of characters Horace (Paul Walter Hauser, Yesterday), Jasper (Joel Fry), and Roger Radcliffe (Kayvan Novak), and a cute Pongo and Perdita cameo, there’s huge nods to the 1961 story but this entertaining movie is not your average Disney romp.
“Cruella” boasts a PG-13 rating, and deservingly so with its themes of murder, death, and a pervasively darker mood throughout the film than the animated ones that deal with heavier topics yet still come off cheerier.
Even though it’s darker, this film is highly enjoyable with solid character development and a great on-screen rivalry between Stone and Emma Thompson, who portrays a devious mogul known as the Baroness – a woman who plays a pivotal role in the legend Cruella ultimately becomes.
The fashion is to die for, with that vintage 1960-70’s feel to match the period, and both Stone and Thompson flaunted the flyest creations of multiple award-winning costume designer Jenny Beavan in the film.
Equally on-point is the soundtrack, which features songs that range from rock to punk to blues to pop and a bit of soul (check out the official Disney “Cruella” playlist here).
And I very much enjoyed the introduction of Maya, portrayed by Kirby Howell-Baptiste, a childhood friend of Estella/Cruella who also plays a role in the formation of her legend. I really wish she had more screen time, as I felt Howell-Baptiste’s skills were underused, but she makes the most of her scenes and is a warm contrast to Cruella’s, and the Baroness’s, coldness.
Outside of “Cruella” not being the most appropriate viewing for the littlest ones, my biggest critique is that those with and without Disney + will not be able to view this one via streaming without paying for Premiere Access – which is an additional $29.99 to view even with a subscription. Otherwise, the film premieres today in theaters and on Disney +, and will be available to view August 27 on the latter (free with subscription).
I rate it 4 out of 5 beats on the MMTrometer.
Until next thought, Thomasena