Tracy J Hutchings, Guest Writer
Warning: Very tiny spoilers ahead.
It’s almost sinful how absolutely delicious Disney’s new feature Cruella is. A story stitched together with music and performances tightly woven to form a tale that is both highly entertaining and full of high fashion. Can I call it cinema couture? I’ll call it cinema couture!
Cruella boasts the talents of two Emmas, Emma Stone (La La Land) and Emma Thompson (from practically everything British) as the duelling Estella/Cruella and Baroness respectfully. One at the height of power and one destined to unseat her, it’s quite a Sith Rule-of-Two now that I think about it. These two ladies play into a tale of revenge and comeuppance in a performance guided by director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya) and honestly, it works well beyond expectations.
To understand why I say this, let’s (briefly) go back a few years ago to a D23 (Disney Official Fan Club) event. The Mouse House unveiled its new slate of projects including a singular, striking shot of a young Cruella clad in leather, holding her Dalmatians with Jasper and Horace in the background. Colour me intrigued. That said, Disney has a way of “reinventing” their villains to have souls which has often felt like a mixed bag for some viewers. Are they all bad for badness’ sake or are they human, a mix of light AND dark, struggling through their fantastical lives? Exhibit A: Maleficent. So, while it may be profitable to retell and remix the classic tales and their histories, it’s still a bit of a risk. For me, Cruella was a risk that paid off!
Set in 70s London, Cruella sits at the intersection of old-world couture and British punk rock sensibilities. The film follows Estella, a young girl with aspirations of being a fashion designer one day. However, she is a bit troubled. Her mischievous side, which she/her mother dubbed
“Cruella”, causes Estella to buck against conformity at every angle, leading to, quite literally, a series of unfortunate events. Let me just stop here and say this isn’t a commentary on Dissociative Identity Disorder; think of it more like Beyonce and Sasha Fierce. A persona/presence used to fulfil a role. For Estella, Cruella is her confidence as much as (I think) her coping mechanism. As she says in the movie, “Cruella gets things done!” And boy! Does she get things done. Caught up? Let’s continue.
After a major tragedy, Estella (Stone) meets up with young Horace and Jasper and the three become a type of family, thieving their way through London. Estella makes the costumes for their heists, Jasper is the Artful Dodger, and together with Horace these three go about their capers to
survive and thrive. It’s actually nice to see them with personalities as opposed to the hired thugs usually associated with Cruella de Vil. Life takes a happy turn when Estella gets a job with famed fashion icon The Baroness (Thompson). But when some dark truths begin to surface so does Cruella, and she embarks upon her mission of revenge, upstaging The Baroness at every turn.
Cruella is not wholly a prequel, nor is it wholly an original tale, but it does pull from all parts of the 101 Dalmatians mythos including bits of the book, the classic animated film, and the 1996 live action 101 Dalmatians story featuring the devilishly fun Glenn Close (who also served as executive producer on this film). Director Craig Gillespie told The Hollywood Reporter that he would tell Disney’s executives that they weren’t making a Disney movie. “Don’t think of this like a Disney film. Think of this like a coming-of-age punk story in London with all the grit.” And that’s
exactly what you get. Amidst the high fashion hijinks there’s also a tactile crime story-esque feel to the filmmaking, helping to give every location and set piece a “lived-in” quality.
The actors’ performances were quite good. One expects Emma Thompson to be amazing (and she was) but I also give heavy praise to Emma Stone for her handling of Cruella. Especially the accent. When I saw the first trailer I wondered if her British accent would hold and it does. This may seem a little trivial, but US actors doing British accents tend to be…Jolie-fied (Lara Croft films, The Tourist) but this blessedly was not the case. Stone truly took the nature of Cruella and made it her own. Also of note were the performances of Joel Fry’s Jasper (who tries to be her conscience a bit) and Kirby Howell-Baptiste’s Anita (a young reporter who chronicles Cruella’s exploits). Given where the story leads to, I would have loved a little more of Anita, but I suspect if there is a sequel we will know a great deal more.
The film of course is not without its flaws, mainly with a few editing choices. Some parts I would’ve loved to see/get more of and some could’ve been cut down a bit. That said, I didn’t feel exhausted by it or the runtime. Also, the “big reveal” in the third act wasn’t really that big.
I mean, the way the film is set up, you kinda-sorta had an inkling, so the full reveal was more “oh cool” than “wow!”
The music in Cruella absolutely slays me. Queen, Blondie, The Clash and also Miss Nina
Simone and Tina Turner, among others. The cherry on top comes from Florence and the Machine who did an original track for the film, “Call Me Cruella”, which is decidedly an earworm! “The fabric of your little world is torn. Embrace the darkness and be reborn.” If (like me) you love original scores, Nicholas Britell has you covered. He scored for such films like If Beale Street Could Talk and Moonlight.
Should you see Cruella? Yes. It is one of the best retellings out of the Mouse House, an absolute delight, and a great start to the blockbuster movie season! She doesn’t go all kill-kill here but there’s enough in her personality that she could go full Glenn Close later in her life. There’s a
mid-credit scene that possibly alludes to that and is a nice wink to the 101 Dalmatians mythos. Fun side note: There is a line in 101 Dalmatians where Cruella tells Anita, “More good women have been lost to marriage than famine, war and disaster. You have talent darling, don’t squander it”. Points were made.
You may hear comparisons to Devil Wears Prada but for me it’s a full circle journey. Miranda Priestley’s introduction reflects Cruella’s introduction in 101 Dalmatians which in turn reflects The Baroness which spills right back to Cruella herself. It’s all good. Interestingly, this isn’t
the first time we’ve had a different glimpse of Cruella. Fans of the hit ABC series Once Upon A Time may remember the tv show’s retelling of Cruella who had magical power over animals, causing them to do her bidding.
In closing, I have to say, I loved Cruella! Story, soundtrack et al. And in this environment where everything feels too much sometimes, this was a welcome escape. And best of all, it did not disappoint.
Tracy’s Score: 9 out of 10 (See it in cinemas <if you live in a pandemic free zone> or on
Written by: Tracy J Hutchings (who was last seen sewing together newspaper clippings while wearing a dalmatian-inspired facemask.
Editor’s Note: A very special thanks to guest writer Tracy J Hutchings who delivered a winner with his debut Red Mango Reviews article. You can check out more Disney-fied articles below: