Stylistically vibrant and featuring Emma Stone at her most fun, Cruella is a devilishly good time and the first true surprise of the year.
Left to fend for herself after a tragic accident, young Estella (Stone) turns to a life of deceptive robberies with pals Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), though her creativity leaves her aspiring for more. Cruella takes the well-known villainous character and dives deep into a backstory that presents the character through an empathic lens. Set in 1970s punk rock London, the film itself is a high-octane tale from start to finish, bolstered by an exuberant soundtrack and stunning visuals, both in settings and in fashion. Stone is clearly having a blast bringing her character to life and does so with palpable confidence that imbues the performance with authenticity. The beloved Emma Thompson takes on her own challenge as she is transformed into a narcissistic fashion designer with secrets aplenty, bringing The Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda Priestly welcomingly into the story.
As this is an origin story for a character that first made her Disney appearance in 1961, the writers have clearly taken liberties in fleshing out a backstory that aims to validate the evil heiress’ determination in skinning Dalmatians for their fur. While the film does offer clever reasoning, the final scenes of the film undercut what we’ve been told and sever the logical link between this Cruella and the Cruella we know so well. We’re also subjected to the “Clark Kent disguise” with Thompson’s character unable to recognize Stone’s Estella when she is before her as Cruella. That said, director Craig Gillespie has crafted a unique and fun film that is far better (and darker, both in visuals and in story) than expected. It works well if you’re willing to suspend knowledge of just how evil and insane Cruella is known to be, but perhaps there is room to explore this further transformation in a sequel.
Emma Stone is delightfully wicked and Emma Thompson continues to show why she is one of the best in a film that exceeds expectations and will be a ton of fun for audiences when it releases this Friday in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access.
Photo from Disney