Cruella, directed by Craig Gillespie, is a delight in the most awful, breathtaking way. The film is an origin story of Cruella de Vil, the villain in Disney’s 101 Dalmations. The acting is hilarious and full of wit. It goes toe to toe with the striking fashions, and the music compliments every visual delight. Emma Stone as Cruella not only gives life to the animated villain; she breathes her in and roars her to wicked, mad life.
Trailer Is Not A Metric For Film Quality
When the trailer dropped, reactions were mixed. Trailers are not a reliable metric for a film’s quality. Some trailers miss the mark; others outperform the actual film. Some scoffed at what they saw as Disney’s attempt to get a villain as cool and bad as DCEU’s Harley Quinn. Others compared it to The Devil Wears Prada. So depending on one’s view of the films above, they were either foaming at the mouth to watch or planned to shun the film entirely. These comparisons are valid, but Cruella is in a category by herself; accept no substitutes or imitations.
Appealing Lead Characters
The character of Cruella is the underdog we love to root for—a child whose creativity and eccentric nature is brilliant…and discouraged. Or worse, asked to conform to the staid standards of society. It’s precisely why Cruella is so compelling. Cruella tries to hide her nonconformist, confrontational—or in Anita Darling’s (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) word “extreme”—nature. When she embraces her wicked nature her creativity is also unleashed. She know longer cares about shining too bright. Indeed she seeks and revels in the spotlight unabashed and undaunted. Emma Stone’s acting is splendid and she looks the part of an emerging iconic fashion designer who’s aware of her own brilliance.
The Baroness (Emma Thompson), is no slouch in charisma either. But we don’t see her talent, except her ability to take others’ creations while they bow under their subjugated status. We also see if devoid of any affection save for perhaps fashion. Even that, however, doesn’t overshadow her sociopathic narcissism. Yet, she remains entertaining as she delivers insults and praise in the same British snarky, deadpan manner. Hopefully someone makes a gif of The Baroness saying, “I could do that all day”. Indeed there are memes and gifs galore in this film thanks to the engrossing, lively performances from the cast.
Supporting characters are delightful. Her companions Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) are entertaining, primarily when Cruella is alongside them. Still, it would’ve been great to see more interaction with Anita Darling outside of her being useful to Cruella. Also, fashionable boutique owner and dresser Artie (John McCrea) is stunningly dressed as well. Cruella and Artie are dynamic onscreen together.
Altogether Stunning Style & Music
The pacing does drag around the middle of the film; but it doesn’t dim how entertaining Cruella is. The music from the 60s and 70s are classics, sampling from a variety of sounds and artists like The Clash, Nina Simone, Queen, The Rolling Stones that some audience members will sing along to and others will look up to become acquainted. The original score is as darkly compelling as Cruella, with shades of murkiness, aspiration and dread that fits this ghastly beautiful film perfectly.
The clothing is perfection and each character’s attire complements them. Costume designer Jenny Beavan gave us looks on repeat. As she also designed the attire for Mad Max: Fury Road it’s no surprise she can handle the darker tone and characters present in this film. There is even a similarity in Cruella’s fierce “The Future” look and Furiosa’s steely gazed appearance. Strong, compelling women need clothes that rise to their level and Jenny Beavan delivers.
Cruella is an evil victory. Emma Stone makes Cruella live and it will be impossible to picture anyone else in this role for years to come. Though we may certainly see Cruellas running around come October 31st, there can be only one.
Top Photo*: Courtesy of Disney