Review: No One Asked For Or Needed Disney’s Cruella, But It’s Still Pretty Impressive
Going into Disney’s Cruella review, I wasn’t all that excited. By and large, Disney live-action movies have been very hit and miss. While Aladdin was a fun reinvention, others like Lion King were less than great. And the prequel movies telling the origin of villains were even more all over the place. And the trailer for Cruella did even less to reassure me about how it’s all going to go down. So I was immensely surprised when I ended up liking Cruella. It’s an odd movie that makes some bold choices, that kind of pay off in weird and unexpected ways. Find out more in my Disney’s Cruella review, which is entirely spoiler-free, by the way.
How To Crack A Nut Like Disney’s Cruella
The alter ego or the real person? | Image via Disney Plus.
So let’s get this out of the way at the beginning of Disney’s Cruella review; this is less a prequel, and more an alternate take. The titular character of Cruella de Vil comes from the classic Disney animated movie, 101 Dalmations. The villain of that movie is the star of this new movie, which in and of itself, presents some problems. Firstly, the same problem that all villain origin stories face, how to make the villain sympathetic or likable enough for audiences to care about them. Cruella does this by introducing an even more despicable character, Emma Thompson’s Baroness.
The period movie set in the 70’s fashion scene of London, is all about a young girl named Estella (Emma Stone). Having had attitude problems as a young girl, she was always told to behave, blend in and just be normal. Pursuing an interest in fashion design, Estella also moonlights as a grifter, running cons with her roommates and only friends, Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser). A chance encounter with fashion mogul, The Baroness (Thompson), ties into Estella’s past, and the story becomes an amazing revenge thriller. And also a heist movie with all kinds of craziness going down. And it’s all great, for the most part.
There’s So Much To Absolutely Love About Cruella
This! Is how you fashion! | Image via Disney Plus.
Despite (or maybe because of) some very interesting choices in front of, and behind the camera, Cruella is pretty amazing. The period setting of the 70s is stunning. The set design and locales are intricate and visually a treat to watch. In a lot of ways, the set designs felt like Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie, in terms of how it all felt and came together. It was second only to the costume design of the movie. I know, it’s something that I usually don’t comment on or even notice, but there are moments where even I sat up and had to get a better look at something Stone was wearing. Or even Thompson herself. Which makes sense as the story does have a strong fashion industry premise to it all. It all just adds to the very cool and funky vibe the movie establishes pretty early on.
And then we come to the music. Disney must have spent a pretty penny when it comes to Cruella’s soundtrack, because it’s incredible. Every song is a banger of its time and instantly recognizable, despite the alterations made for the cover. All of these things just elevate the atmosphere and tone of the movie so much more, in a way that makes the actual story a lot easier to handle.
Disney’s Cruella Is Almost An Elseworlds Story
The real inspiration behind Cruella. | Image via Disney Plus.
The biggest challenge of watching Cruella is to stop trying to figure out how it works as a prequel. Because, fortunately or unfortunately, it just doesn’t. The character in this movie is not the Dalmation-murdering, evil cackling, loathsome Cruella that we see in those classic animated movies. This is a Cruella that has a tragic back story and is very sympathetic. Most importantly, she is a Cruella that has to overcome her natural impulses to be evil, in order to redeem herself.
The worst part about Cruella though is how the movie was marketed. The trailers and everything else leading up to the movie really did push a different narrative. It made the character and the story feel very over the top and vile. Specific scenes, with Stone’s performance taken out of context, set the stage for a raving lunatic type of character. Even resulting in comparisons to Phoniex’s Oscar-winning performance in Joker. It all made many, including myself, wonder why an audience would even care about a Cruella prequel.
But as this Disney’s Cruella review makes evident, writers Dana Fox and Tony McNamara write a version of that character who is likable and that audiences can root for. And director Craig Gillespie crafts a movie that is outrageous, totally over the top, and, at times, downright funky. But it all feels intentionally so, in order to favour the story and the world its creating.
How Disney’s Cruella Rewrites History
Monochromatics never looks this good! | Image via Disney Plus.
There are aspects of Cruella that could be better. The movie is a bit too long given how fast the story unfolds. The pacing dips down near the second half, with a lot of indulgences when it comes to the comedy bits, especially from Jasper and Horace. I do have to say though, that Hauser steals the show with his one-liners and overall comic relief nature. It’s a great way of diffusing the tension that Stone herself creates with a sometimes erratic depiction of the main character.
Thompson’s Baroness feels like a template for, and a proto-version, of the classic Cruella de Vil. It’s almost like The Devil Wears Prada meets Late Night, the late-night comedy movie with Mindy Kailing. The story does attempt to explain the similarities, in a pretty somewhat satisfying way. There’s a lot of choices in Disney’s Cruella that may not go down with all audiences. Disney purists might dislike the whole, sympathizing with the puppy killer aspects of the origin. While ardent cinephiles might have issues with the prequel, that kind of isn’t, and doesn’t really connect with the subsequent depictions of this character.
Cruella Might Be Enjoyed By Casual Audiences
What they promised us. | Image via Disney Plus.
Despite all these issues, new audiences coming into Disney’s Cruella without any expectations or without looking for movie timeline connections might have fun with it. And for whatever Cruella is or wanted to be, it’s honestly a lot of fun. Stone commands every frame she’s in with neurotic energy, but one that’s also very restraint and charming. She’s tragic when the story calls for it, but also just a perfect Disney villain when the turn demands it. She’s having fun with the whole thing, and it’s wonderfully evident.
The popular covers, along with the innovative period setting will absolutely appeal to casual audiences. It’s an enjoyable one-off watch as a stand-alone movie that is engaging and entertaining. Don’t think too hard about what happens after the movie ends though. Just enjoy it.
Disney’s Cruella will open in theatres and on Disney Plus on May 28.
Are you excited for another live-action, original Disney movie? Let me know in the comments below.
Featured Image via Disney Plus.
Shah Shahid is an entertainment writer, movie critic (so he thinks), host of the Split Screen Podcast (on Apple Podcasts & everywhere else) and filmy father on a mission to educate his girls on decades of film history. Armed with uncontrollable sarcasm and cautious optimism, Shah loves discussing film, television and comic book content until his wife’s eyes glaze over. So save her by engaging him on his own blog at BlankPageBeatdown.com or on Twitter @theshahshahid.