Cruella film review (2021)

Cruella is definitely full of style and new ideas for a character who’s notoriously known for being wicked. Emma Stone does a great job humanizing the character while still offering moments of familiar cruelty.

When it was announced Disney was creating an origin story based on Cruella De Vil, I wasn’t very interested. I mean, Emma Stone is one of my favorite actresses working today, but I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the property. 101 Dalmatians isn’t one of the Disney films I watched over and over again growing up, both the animated and live-action versions. You can say I’m a bit unfamiliar with the character of Cruella, but what I do know is she’s pretty evil, and that’s common knowledge. Once the trailer released though, I was immediately intrigued. It was full of style and an aesthetic I can get behind. Plus, it gave me plenty of Joker and The Devil Wears Prada vibes, which seems like the perfect combination for a character like this.

Being based on the iconic Disney villain, Cruella De Vil, Cruella tells the story of Estella, who’s a talented artist and is persistent in making a name for herself in the fashion design realm. After meeting two thieves, Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), they form an unlikely team as they try to build something for themselves in London. However, after getting the opportunity of a lifetime to work for the Baroness (Emma Thompson) as a designer, she slowly begins to embrace her wicked side, leading to a series of mischievous revenge-filled events.

You know, I never thought I would actually sympathize for a character like Cruella De Vil, especially one who takes advantage of dogs and even skins/kills them in order to make pieces of clothing. However, I guess you can say this iteration of the character is different to the one I’ve seen growing up. Of course, it’s an origin story, and with a sequel already being planned, there’s room for this version of Cruella to grow into the one we’re used to seeing. But, for now, although you can see the potential for this character to be vicious, she hasn’t really reached that tipping point just yet. The majority of the credit has to be given to Stone, who portrays a character you can get behind because of what she’s been through, while also understanding why she feels a certain way, even if you can’t always agree with her methods.

Recently, many films, especially in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, have been giving the villains proper character development. What I mean is these villains aren’t evil just because. Many of these villains have a reasoning behind their madness, which helps the viewer appreciate and relate to these characters a bit more. The one which stands out the most is Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger in Black Panther, who grew up with hate in his heart because of a tragic event that happened early on his life. Again, you don’t always agree with his actions since some are pretty severe and devastating, but you can understand why he feels a certain way towards some people. I think I feel the same way about Estella here.

Early on in her childhood, something unthinkable happens to her, leaving her on her own to fend for herself. It isn’t until she meets Jasper and Horace, who together, develop an unbreakable bond. They don’t do the best things in the world, but they’re a group of people who have always been on their own and don’t have any other way to live. In other words, they don’t know any better, and that’s how they get by. The character development is definitely there and the film does a great job introducing these characters to the audience. They grow on you fairly quickly and based on what you first see, it’s hard not to support them in whatever they do because of the cards they’ve been dealt. Once again, not that I agree with stealing and causing mayhem, but there’s reasons behind all of this.

Speaking more on Stone and her performance, she’s great as the title character. I mentioned earlier how the film sort of resembles elements of The Devil Wears Prada and Joker. Essentially, she plays two characters in the movie. As Estella, she’s an ambitious creator who’s trying to make it in the fashion industry who so happens to be under the tutelage of a vicious and often unforgiving boss in the Baroness. On the other hand, as Cruella, she’s basically everything Estella isn’t. She’s someone who feels society has turned her back on her in a number of ways, especially from people who don’t give her a chance to do what she loves in life. In return, she fires back the way she feels is necessary. She offers many layers to her performance and brings a certain intensity to the role I don’t think many others could have done.

The same can be said about the Baroness. I mean, it is Emma Thompson we’re speaking of here, who is an incredible actress. In many ways, she’s very similar to Estella in her ambition, determination, ferocity. The only issue I had with her is the lack of explanation or development as to why she is the way she is. This is simply another case of someone being rude, obnoxious, and self-centered for absolutely no reason. I mean, sometimes, you don’t always need it, but if her counterpart has some sort of build-up that leads to who she eventually becomes, I feel she should have one as well. At best, she portrays your typical snobby boss who plays a big role in shaping who Estella grows up to be.

Other characters I enjoyed were Jasper and Horace, of course, who are Estella’s right hand men, if you will. In most of the schemes they try to pull of, in many ways, they’re the muscle behind the operation. Jasper is definitely the wisest one in the whole group, often being the leader, while Horace mostly does what he’s told, while also providing some comedic relief. He’s a bit of a dope, and Hauser really sells it. It’s not the first time he’s embraced this kind of character either, so he was in familiar territory bringing this one to life.

The last character I thought was great is Mark Strong’s John the Valet. In most Strong’s roles, he plays someone who has a calm demeanor, but at the same time, is equally intimidating. It’s not different in Cruella. As a viewer, you aren’t entirely sure how to feel about him at first, but as the plot progresses, he starts to grow on you a bit and his intentions become a bit more clear. I wish he was in it a bit more, if I’m being honest, but I’m sure he’ll have a more expanded role in the sequel.

I found the story to be entertaining for the most part, but it wasn’t as original as I was expecting. It takes plenty of ideas from other films, some which I think were done better in those respective movies. It also feels a bit repetitive and predictable at times. However, again, it’s still entertaining and keeps you engaged throughout. Familiarity doesn’t always bother me as long as it’s able to get the message across and keep you focused on what’s going on. Cruella did its job.

Compared to other Disney films of the past, Cruella also takes risks. It doesn’t play it safe in a variety of instances, especially considering the subject matter. It’s a bit edgy in various sequences and some scenes did catch me by surprise in terms of how the storytellers decided to craft certain plot points. It’s one of the few live-action Disney films that sets itself apart from what it’s inspired by in a number of ways. I wish it did play it safe with some of the special effects, though. There are certain CGI elements that are outright awful and could’ve been done so much better.

Cruella is full of style, intrigue, and bright characters. The characters are what make it stand out the most and they’re the primary reason you’ll stick along for the ride. The story is somewhat predictable and familiar and the CGI is pretty bad at times, but it does more than enough to keep you invested throughout. The dynamic between Stone and Thompson is thoroughly entertaining in each one of their encounters and the promise of it not being done only makes the interest for a sequel even more compelling. It’s worth a watch, for sure.

Score: B

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