Review: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson Shine In Disney’s ‘Cruella’
May 28, 2021, 5:30 AM | Updated: Jun 11, 2021, 6:56 am
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Disney has come up with some pretty magical and powerful adversaries to battle their heroes over the course of the past 100 years of moviemaking — the Evil Queen, Maleficent, Ursula, Gaston and Jafar are just a few. (You could maybe even make the argument for Ysma from “The Emperor’s New Groove.” She did use magic, after all.)
Disney has also shown a great desire to create live-action versions of many of their animated hits from the past: “Cinderella,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Lady and the Tramp,” “Dumbo,” and more recently, “Mulan.”
Now, after the success of Angelina Jolie’s “Maleficent” and its sequel, Disney is going back to the vault to make another live-action movie telling the backstory of an animated villain. This time, it’s Cruella De Vil.
On the list of backstories nobody really was asking for, Cruella De Vil has got to be pretty high up there. First of all, which Cruella are we even talking about — the animated version from 1961 or the live-action movie with Glenn Close from 1996? Either way, most of what we know about her was that she had black and white hair, was a terrible driver, and she wanted to make coats of Dalmatian fur. Were you REALLY wondering why?
And yet, low expectations going into a movie can often bring high enjoyment, and believe it or not, there are a bunch of things that you can and maybe even will enjoy in “Cruella.”
This live-action tale is set in England in the 1950s and 1960s. A young girl with black and white hair named Estella just can’t seem to stay out of trouble in her prep school and gets kicked out. She eventually ends up in London, all by herself, and falls in with a couple of street thieves named Horace and Jasper. As time goes by, the three grow up and turn into Emma Stone, Paul Walter Hauser (“Cobra Kai,” “Richard Jewell”) and Joel Fry (“Game of Thrones,” “Yesterday”). Their trio forms a family-type bond as they watch out for each other and become quite good at conning and robbing people. But all the while, the talented Estella burns with a desire to be a fashion designer. Eventually, she gets a chance to work for — and be constantly berated by — the leading designer in London named the Baroness (played by Emma Thompson). Eventually, Estella disguises herself as a mysterious avant-garde designer named, you guessed it, Cruella, and she begins a guerilla-type fashion war against the Baroness.
Really, the strength of this movie lies in three things:
- First is the Emmas, both Stone and Thompson. These ladies just ham it up in the most delicious way. Emma Thompson chews up scenes with a wicked disdain for every character around her, while also hiding a brilliant, ruthless and cunning mind, behind a stunningly dressed exterior. Emma Stone, when in full Cruella mode, matches every one of Thompson’s sneers and cool insults in their battle of wits and designs.
- Second, the gorgeous color palettes used in the clothing and designs of late 1960’s London fashion. It forms a great and striking visual contrast to the black and white of some of the Baroness’s parties, as well as her pet Dalmatians (Oh, you didn’t think those particular dogs weren’t going to show up at some point, did you?).
- Third, owing largely to the time period of this movie, there is a killer soundtrack behind it, with music from the Doors, Tina Turner, The Rolling Stones, Blondie and a host of others.
“Cruella” is rated PG-13 for some adult-ish plot points and a couple of violent moments, though it’s mostly harmless. It is a bit long as well, running at just over 2 hours and 15 minutes, which is almost a full hour longer than the original animated “101 Dalmatians” movie. Quite honestly, director Craig Gillespie could have made some cuts to shorten the length without sacrificing much in the way of story. The biggest issue that may bother viewers is the really odd relationship this movie has with the known characters from both versions of “101 Dalmatians.” There are lots of obvious nods to each movie (not surprising since they were all based on the same book anyway), but if you’re looking for direct continuity from “Cruella” to either of the two Dalmatian movies, you’ll have more questions at the end of this one than you did when you started.
Therefore, I would suggest that you go into this movie to just enjoy it for what it is: Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, two great and talented actresses giving it their all in a hazy recreation of 1960’s London, a city of millions that somehow has hardly any people ever walking the streets. I still give “Cruella” three out of four stars based almost exclusively on the leading ladies’ performances, the visual smorgasbord the movie serves up, and the humorous moments — of which there are several. Don’t waste the effort trying to reconcile it with the other 101 Dalmatian movies in the series, just have a good time and try and spot the Easter eggs.
“Cruella” opens in movie theaters and on Disney Plus Premier Access starting May 28th. To watch it at home, you’ll need to pay the $8/month subscription fee, then an additional one-time payment of $30. That might be the more affordable option if you have more than two or three kids, or you still feel uncomfortable going to the theater in person. As a bonus, you can watch it as many times as you’d like.
Hopefully, you & your family found this review helpful! Andy Farnsworth is the movie and pop culture guy for the “KSL 5 Today” morning news show and also hosts the “Fan Effect” podcast for KSL NewsRadio.