CRUELLA makes for a tough review because while the film is lacking in the originality department, how can you not enjoy watching the Emmas (Stone vs. Thompson) battle it out and swoon over the amazing fashion? I also am a diehard Disney fan and am very quick to nerd out about the latest film, regardless of whether the subject matter is :ahem: a little unoriginal by way of a villain origin story or remake. But, dahling, I fully understand that the joys I found in CRUELLA are not going to be enough for most audience members, especially with the film’s over 2 hour runtime.
Taking place in the 1970s, Cruella begins her life as Estella, a young girl constantly struggling to be good for her very nice mother (Emily Beecham). You see, Estella has a darkness to her personality that is personified by an alter-ego named Cruella that likes to get her in trouble. For the most part, she is able to keep Cruella at bay. But that gets more and more difficult after one night when Estella and her mother go to the palatial estate of a rich woman to ask for a favor. Instead of getting help, Estella’s mother is killed by the woman’s vicious dalmatians. Foreshadowing, much?
Now an orphan, Estella travels to London and falls in with a band of thieves to make ends meet. But after years of this less-than-legal work, Estella is able to secure a position in an upscale, pretentious department store. Things take a turn for the worst when she has too much to drink one night and changes the store’s stodgy window display into a punk rock magnum opus. The display draws the wrong attention from her boss, but draws the right attention from the store’s top customer, the Baroness (Emma Thompson), a cruel fashion mogul that is looking for new talent to :cough: steal from :cough:. She quickly hires Estella and begins taking her ideas as her own.
Of course, that (and a few other spoilery things) doesn’t sit well with Estella. So in true Clark Kent/Superman fashion, she decides to secretly use her Cruella alter-ego to give the Baroness some much-needed competition and breathe fresh air into the fashion world.
You can tell from the credits alone that CRUELLA borrows heavily from movies like THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA. I saw some referring to the film as THE DEVILLE WEARS PRADA, and that is pretty darn accurate. And while its predecessor is a literal perfect movie, I will never complain about scenes of Emma Thompson and Emma Stone sneering at each other. I would have easily watched a three hour movie of just them hurling insults, in gorgeous costumes.
Speaking of costumes, you can’t talk about CRUELLA—the character or the film—without also talking about fashion. Costume designer Jenny Beaven, who has worked on many of your favorite period dramas, knocks it out of the ballpark with the looks in this film. The costumes are characters themselves, providing depth to each character arc far beyond the dialogue. It was almost as if I could watch the film on mute and still understand what was happening with each character from the transition in costumes alone. Estella’s transformation into Cruella is *chef’s kiss* perfection.
In the villain origin story genre, we are supposed to suddenly see the humanity in characters we thought we knew, which should give us a new perspective as we watch the characters in other films. But admittedly, I am still a bit confused about what our main takeaway from Cruella’s backstory should be; particularly the key element of her villainy, an obsession with dalmatian fur. Because by the end of the film, Cruella seems pretty okay with our furry friends. I kept wondering if I missed something because the movie is seemingly implying that this whole dalmatian fur business was just an unsubstantiated rumor that took off. What?! I don’t really know how we get from there to the events of the other Cruella-featured films, but to put it lightly, I was confused. Cruella is one of cinema’s most notoriously sinister villains because she wanted to skin a bunch of puppies for fashion. But it was all just a public relations misunderstanding? Not buying it.
Bottom line, I primarily got what I came for with CRUELLA, the Emmas duking it out and getting to revel in the incredible fashion. Do I wish the storyline had been a bit more original? Sure. But I was still mostly entertained, and I think most Disney fans will be too. Make sure you stay for a mid-credit scene that is a fun easter egg for fans of the animated film.
CRUELLA is available in theaters and for purchase on Disney+ May 28!
My Review: B-/C+