Disney's recent slate of live-action remakes have mostly felt like pale imitations of their animated counterparts, but Cruella manages to stand above the rest thanks to its original story. The new movie is a prequel starring Emma Stone as Estella, the younger version of 101 Dalmatians' infamous villain, Cruella de Vil. This 1970s romp explains how the fashion-obsessed opportunist went from being a small-time thief to an aspiring designer hell-bent on taking down London's biggest fashion maven, The Baroness (Emma Thompson). The movie isn't perfect by any means and it could have been at least 30 minutes shorter, but between Craig Gillespie's creative direction, Jenny Beavan's electric costume design, and the wickedly captivating performances by Stone and Thompson, Cruella is easily one of Disney's best live-action films to date.
There are a million ways Cruella could have failed, especially when you consider the fact that we're supposed to root for a woman who will one day kidnap a bunch of puppies with the intent to kill them. However, the film manages to find the perfect balance between making us believe this character could one day become the Cruella we all know (and love to hate) while still rooting for her in this new context. Many people will instinctively want to compare this movie to Maleficent, but it's a completely different approach to telling a villain's tale. Maleficent was a retelling of Sleeping Beauty from Maleficent's perspective whereas no part of Cruella makes you look back on 101 Dalmatians and think, "Maybe Cruella was right all along!"
Cruella also has a timelessness that many of the other recent live-action Disney films lack. The movie isn't saturated with CGI characters and effects that will age poorly. In fact, Cruella's use of real dogs is one of the movie's highlights. Sure, there are a couple of moments where the dogs were obviously reworked on a computer, but knowing they took the time to use real animals whenever possible really adds to the experience. Also, the dogs are freaking cute.
Considering Stone is an Academy Award-winning darling, no one will be surprised to learn that she carries this movie with complete star power. She had big shoes to fill after Glenn Close played the role in 1996, but Stone made the part her own. Throughout the movie, Stone balances being both Estella and Cruella beautifully, and the further she descends into Cruella's madness, the more captivating she becomes. Even when Cruella starts to feel too long, it's impossible to feel bored with Stone at the helm.
In addition to its extensive run time, Cruella isn't always working with the strongest script. There are times when Tony McNamara's signature style shines through, but other scenes feel drawn out and unnecessary. There's a shocking moment towards the beginning of the movie that made me cackle, but it's definitely not supposed to be funny. However, the movie's weak spots are nothing in comparison to its strengths. Not only is every costume piece mesmerizing, but all of Gillespie's directing choices keep you thoroughly engaged. Not to mention the movie's epic soundtrack, which will no doubt be one of the most talked-about aspects of the film.
As a huge fan of the animated 101 Dalmatians as well as the live-action remake, I was curious to see which version of the classic story Cruella would set up. While it's fun to think of Stone one day becoming Close, it's clear Disney chose to pair this movie with the animated film. For the most part, Cruella feels true to the original with very little retconning, which isn't too hard to accomplish considering the animated flick wasn't brimming with character backstory. The only original character who really feels out of place in Cruella is Jasper, Cruella's future henchman, played by Game of Thrones' Joel Fry. Cruella portrays Jasper in an almost too endearing light and it made me wonder more than once how such a sweet, lovable man could ever one day agree to skin puppies. However, Fry's chemistry with Paul Walter Hauser's Horace is an absolute delight, and their relationship with Estella feels truly genuine.
Cruella manages to provide the perfect amount of nostalgia, giving just enough sprinkles to satiate fans of 101 Dalmatians. In the beginning, it feels like they lay it on a little thick by squeezing dalmatians into Cruella's history, but it ends up playing out nicely. My personal favorite moment of the movie is the mid-credits scene, which features some fun familiarity, so be sure to stick around.
Cruella isn't going to go down in history as one of Disney's strongest films, but it has certainly raised the bar when it comes to their live-action catalog. While this movie is definitely more adult than most Disney films, don't let the PG-13 rating scare you and the family away. There are definitely darker elements to the movie and some intense moments that might frighten the young kids, but if your little ones could handle Cruella's terrifying moments in 101 Dalmatians, they should be fine.
If you love fashion, devilish fun, and watching women be unapologetically bad, Cruella is a must-see.
Rating: 4 out of 5