Cruella is exactly as advertised, a look into the origins of the Disney villainess that serves as the antagonist in 101 Dalmatians. While the original incarnation was portrayed as pure evil, Cruella gives a more sympathetic look at why the fashion designer becomes the way she is. This ultimately works in the film’s favor as the Cruella portrayed by Emma Stone has many more layers to work with, which is needed as a protagonist that viewers want to root for. However, this isn’t really Cruella’s tale. It’s more about who Estella de Vil was before she became a cartoonish over-the-top criminal.
The film begins with a glimpse at a 12-year-old Estella, who Tipper Seifert-Cleveland wonderfully plays. Her inability to fit in at school is shown through a fun montage, and there’s enough potential here that it could’ve been fleshed out even further (although given the film’s two-hour-plus runtime, it makes sense as to why director Craig Gillespie sped things up). Seeing Cruella not as an evil fashion designer but as a kid that sticks up for herself and finds herself regularly getting called into the principal’s office helps establish sympathy and relatability for the character that was never really there previously.
Over the course of the film’s sizable introduction, Estella finds herself now an orphan living in London that is taken in by two young thieves who want her to have the best life possible. It skips forward a few years to the characters as adults, which is when Jasper and Horace help get Estella a fashion internship that would forever change her life and the trio’s overall relationship.
Of course, for Cruella to serve as a sympathetic figure and one that fans will find themselves surprisingly getting behind, a proper villain is needed. That’s where Emma Thompson’s The Baroness comes in. The fashion magnate is shown much like Cruella de Vil in the 1996 live-action film. She treats her employees horribly, has no care for anyone other than herself, and values fashion over the lives of anyone else. Thompson’s performance is fantastic as she serves as a great antagonist, and there’s a sad tinge as a viewer since it’s clear that Estella becomes what she hates.
Other portrayals that must be commended are Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser as Jasper and Horace Badun, respectively. Fry plays more of a reasonable straight man and has a few heart-to-heart talks with Estella that make the character shine compared to previous incarnations. Meanwhile, Hauser is the main comic relief, and he plays the part wonderfully as he’s aided by a wonderful dog that excels in assisting their thievery.
Despite some fantastic supporting performances, Stone’s natural charisma is what makes Estella a character worth rooting for. Her face effortlessly lights up when talking about fashion, and her serious side shines in her rivalry against The Baroness, which is built around the two characters trying to get one over on the other both in fashion and in more critical matters. While Stone’s transformation into the titular villainess is inevitable, it’s almost seen as empowering for the character as she uses her darker alter ego to get things done.
The movie also wows from a visual standpoint as Cruella is able to captivate from beginning to end with great shots and some stellar heist scenes that provide just enough humor with the drama. A lot of credit has to be given to costume designer Jenny Beavan, who did an incredible job coming up with an array of eye-catching outfits. Both Stone and Thompson are stunningly dressed throughout, and the film’s aesthetic is perfectly paired with a soundtrack full of memorable songs from the 70s.
Cruella delivers on its core premise of giving more depth to the iconic villainess and provides a fun ride throughout. While the film is slightly longer than it needs to be at over two hours, Stone’s performance will keep watchers captivated throughout. It’s a worthwhile addition to the Disney franchise and has a cheeky ending that will leave fans grinning.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 8 equates to “Great.” While there are a few minor issues, this score means that the art succeeds at its goal and leaves a memorable impact.
Disclosure: The studio provided a screener of the film for our Cruella review.