Review: Live Action “Cruella” is a Mixed Bag

Hi everyone!

I previewed Cruella, which debuts May 28th in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access for an additional fee. Cruella stars Emma Stone as the title character, who is one of the more popular Disney villains. Emma Thompson plays the Baroness.

Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo by Laurie Sparham. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserve

Cruella is a live-action film that is a prequel – an origin story for Cruella De Vil. Cruella starts off life as Estella – we see Estella from birth to parental loss to befriending Jasper and Horace (and taking up thieving) and watching her evolve into a fashion designer.

Cruella doesn’t really feel that connected to the original animated film. Estella is different than her peers, with two-toned hair and fashion aspirations. She meets Horace and Jasper when they are all 12 years old. As an adult, Estella gets a job at a large department store, where she doesn’t mesh either – it is also where the Baroness finds her and hires Estella for her own House of Baroness. Thompson and Stone play off each other exquisitely. Thompson doesn’t want anyone to upstage herself and while Estella is often more reserved, Cruella is not. Estella is a highly talented designer who creates signature pieces for House of Baroness while Thompson’s Baroness takes all the credit. There is a lot of tension between The Baroness and Estella as the movie progresses that is funneled into Cruella.

Cruella is a dark movie and honestly, I didn’t warm up to it on first watch. I am not the target audience, although the tremendous soundtrack is from the 60s and 70s and very familiar to me. The actors are superb – all of them, not just Stone and Thompson. Joel Fry as Jasper in particular shows a depth and range in his friendship with Estella/Cruella.

The costumes are stunning, with Oscar-winning costume designer Jenny Beavan at the helm. Between Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, there are about 80 fashions they wear throughout the film. The movie features about four dozen songs and sometimes feels like one long music video.

In the end, I don’t feel like I understand why Cruella would become a villain. While it looks like she is headed that way in the movie, she really just seems misunderstood. We do find out why she dislikes Dalmatians and why she ends up with the De Vil in her name – so there are some boxes ticked off in that way. And there is a lot more to the story as it unfolds in its lengthy 2 hour and 15 minute run time.

For myself, Cruella is a mixed bag. It has great acting, stylish fashions and a soundtrack that often reminds me of my childhood. But it isn’t a necessary film and leaves me with more questions than it answers. That said, I do believe Cruella will be a cult classic movie and the film character will change the way we think of Cruella forever.

“Cruella” stars Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby HowellBaptiste and Mark Strong. The film is directed by Craig Gillespie, with screenplay by Dana Fox and Tony McNamara, story by Aline Brosh McKenna and Kelly Marcel & Steve Zissis, based upon the novel “The One Hundred and One Dalmatians” by Dodie Smith. “Cruella” is produced by Andrew Gunn, Marc Platt and Kristin Burr, p.g.a., with Emma Stone, Michelle Wright, Jared LeBoff and Glenn Close serving as executive producers.