Many have grown tired of Disney’s latest phase of taking their classic animated works and remaking them in live-action. But as long as people keep buying the tickets, Disney will continue to make more. This might be a good thing because every so often we get lucky with movies like Cruella.
Emma Stone stars as Estella. An orphan who turned to a life of petty thievery after meeting Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser). But after working her way to the top, in some rather dubious ways, Estella finds herself working in the fashion house of Baroness von Hellman. After some time there, Estella soon begins a transformation that will change her life forever.
I cannot stress just how excited I was when Maleficent was coming out. Finally, one of my all-time favourite Disney villains was getting the live-action treatment. Angelina Jolie looked the part, Lana Del Rey’s haunting cover of “Once Upon a Dream” was more than perfect. And it nearly sent me over the edge when Disney released the clip of Maleficent cursing baby Aurora. So, imagine my disappointment when everything that I love about the character was stripped away. All to create a movie that was really about a misunderstood hero than the villain we know from Sleeping Beauty.
That upset has caused me to become sceptical of any origin story films, especially that of villains. But, I am happy to report that Cruella delivers! While Emma Thompson is the film’s primary antagonist. The writers do a terrific job showing us how Estella becomes the twisted Cruella de Vil that we all know and love. While juggling with the issue that despite being a villain, she’s not the villain of the film.
There’s also been some comparison between Cruella and Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix, and rightfully so. Stone’s performance and her character’s antics are often reminiscent of Phoenix’s performance in the 2019 comic-book thriller. That’s not a bad thing at all because it all fits together with the style of the film. Simply put, it just works.
Emma Stone is absolutely fabulous in the role, even if her English accent seems a bit weird at times. Her interpretation of the wicked Estella hits the mark. I want to see her tackle more antagonistic roles in the future. She gives a crafty, manipulative, and outrageously fiendish performance that makes me want a sequel.
Some of Stone’s best work in Cruella comes when she’s paired up with her two henchmen. Jasper and Horace, played by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser. Unlike many movies of this kind, the two confidants aren’t only around for some silly slapstick routine to appease the younger crowds. Instead, they manage to be an integral part of Estella’s schemes. Without coming across as annoying while also providing the film with some comedy relief.
Emma Thompson plays Estella’s new boss Baroness von Hellman. A world-famous fashion designer who plays a key role in Estella’s decision into becoming Cruella. Thompson serves as the film’s villain. Bringing us the best icy diva fashionista since Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly and Vanness Williams’ Wilhelmina Slater. She’s everything you hate in a boss and then some.
Cruella is also wonderfully diverse, with many Black and Asian actors appearing throughout. Showcasing a true reflection of how England, especially London, is extremely diverse – despite what many may claim. In this adaptation of 101 Dalmations, Anita, whose surname has been appropriately changed to Darling. She’s brought to life by Black British actress Kirby Howell-Baptiste. Who, despite not having too much to do other than hold a camera. Managing to make each one of her short appearances stick with what is possibly the most grounded and realistic performance in the film.
There has also been some talk on LGBTQ+ representation in the film. This is true to a certain extent as John McCrea of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie fame plays Artie. A new friend and conspirator to Estella’s schemes. Artie is camp, wears makeup, and has clothes just as flashy as many other characters. But as usual, they never explicitly state anything concerning his gender or sexuality.
Now, for my most favourite part of the film – the costumes! Two-time Academy Award-winner Jenny Beavan has designed the costumes, and she designed the S**t out of them. To sum them up in one word: opulence. The many costumes featured in the film come in many different shapes, styles, and colours, from camp to royal realness. Beaven did such a good job that even the most boring costumes would make RuPaul want to steal them.
I only had two issues with the film is Estella’s Clark Kent ability. She adopts a new persona near the film’s mid-point, the mysterious new fashion designer, Cruella. Estella does this to get closer to the Baroness and wreak havoc through chaotic art stunts. Superman’s Clark Kent comes to mind. When Estella is playing Cruella, no one seems to recognize her. Even though she doesn’t change her voice and only masks her eyes. This brought down the whole subplot of Estella tormenting her boss because it makes the whole situation silly. Leaving me wanting to tear my hair out because and scream: “How the hell are they not seeing this?!”
The second issue I had came in the form of wigs. The wigs to the male characters, to be precise. Quite frankly, most of the wigs designed for the male characters were awful. The ladies are glorious in every way. But many of the men look like they’ve just had mops dropped on their heads. Except for Mark Strong, who gets to sport his naturally hairless look. Except for one flashback where he falls victim to this with his oddly looking hairpiece.
Cruella is the latest Disney flick simultaneously premiering in cinemas and on Disney+ Premier Access. Despite how much I enjoy the film, I don’t think I would pay to see it in cinemas or pay to access it on Disney+. Simply because it feels like the perfect movie that could have been released exclusively on the streaming service as a Disney+ Original Movie. And let’s face it, while Disney’s output of Disney+ Original Series has been consistent, their films have not been. The last Disney+ Original Film was Flora and Ulysees, released on February 19th, 2021, and the next one won’t until Pixar’s Luca arrives on June 18th, 2021. Meanwhile, Netflix is pumping out a new original movie every week, most of them aren’t particularly good, but at least they are providing the content.
That’s quite a gap between Original Movie releases, and in the time between Flora and Ulysees and Luca, we will have had two Premier Access films (Raya and the Last Dragon and Cruella). Naturally, more Disney+ Originals are on the way. But none have release dates after Luca, but there are two more Premier Access movies coming our way. Black Widow (July 9th, 2021) and Jungle Cruise (July 30th, 2021).
No matter how much you’ll miss Glenn Close, Emma Stone makes the role of Cruella de Vil her own in this darkly comical origin story and she’ll be suffering from no bad back because Cruella is carried not only by Stone but by her great supporting cast. Cruella is as fun as it is delightfully “de vil-ish”.
Cruella will be released in cinemas and on Disney+ Premier Access on Friday, May 28th.
Jordan is a British-Trinbagonian film & TV journalist currently based in the UK (not London). You can see his articles on various websites, including The Disinsider and The Cinema Spot. He is not the Las Vegas Raiders player of the same name, but Jordan fully supports him despite knowing nothing about the NFL.
You can find Jordan on Instagram @ig_jordansimmons and Twitter @jordistweeting.