Movie Review: Disney’s ‘Cruella’ Gives Villainy a New Look and It is Fun and Enchanting

“I’m Cruella, born brilliant, born bad and a little mad”

The moment when Estella fully accepts her alter ego, Cruella De Vil
Image via Disney

Cruella is a Disney live-action movie which takes its inspiration from the animation classic, 101 Dalmatians. It sheds light on the origin story of Cruella De Vil, the villain who wanted to kill adorable spotty puppies and skin them to make a fur coat. The premise of the movie is that the popularly known Disney villain, Cruella, wasn’t always cruel, she was just plain Estella, born with an unusual half-black and half-white hair— two colours that seem to symbolize her mischievousness and gentleness. Little Estella, played by Tipper Seifert-Cleveland, is a loner who sees the world differently and her only friend is Buddy, a puppy she found in a dumpster. Her eccentric nature places her in the middle of every fight at her prep school until she is kicked out, well, almost. 

As little Estella challenges the world, she witnesses the tragic demise of her mother, Catherine (Emily Beecham), as she is pushed over a cliff by three Dalmatians— an unfortunate event for which she blames herself. Without her mother, she is left all alone on the streets of London to fend for herself. She meets two orphans who are her agemate and they introduce her to the world of thievery. Ten years later, Estella (now played by Emma Stone) is a criminal mastermind and she even makes astonishing disguises for her partners in crime, Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser). But Estella is destined to be something more than just a petty thief, she has a brilliant mind and a good eye for fashion.

Image via Disney

Imminently, with a stroke of luck, she gets to live her dream of becoming a fashion designer under the tutelage of the greatest designer in London, Baroness Van Hellman (Emma Thompson). The Baroness is a vile and obnoxious woman who thinks the world revolves around her. And when Estella gradually realizes the Baroness’ behaviour, she decides to usurp her throne as the queen of fashion. However, for gentle Estella to upstage the Baroness, she needs to call upon her nasty other self, Cruella. But do not worry, this is not the main twist nor the end of the story, “there are lots more bad things coming, I promise”. 

Directed by Craig Gillespie, Cruella is a story about revenge, fashion and two wickedly evil characters. As much as we get to witness two vile characters get a go at each other, the movie’s greatest triumph is the fabulous and outstanding costumes it aesthetically portrays. Oscar-winning costume designer, Jenny Beavan (Mad Max: Fury Road) did a good job to nail the perfect outfits for the two warring villains. In Cruella, the world of fashion isn’t depicted just as a lifestyle or craft but as a weapon. 

Emma Stone (L) and Emma Thompson (R) in Cruella
Image via Disney

You do not necessarily need to be a fashionista before you cherish every form of art, creativity and ingenuity poured into the making of the costumes. Apart from the fact that the costumes are fabulous, the outfit seems to blend in with Cruella’s and the Baroness’s character. One of my favourite designs is Cruella’s garbage gown design. It reflects just how innovative Cruella is when it comes to fashion and it indirectly passes a ‘I am ready to play dirty’ message to the Baroness. The production design team and Gillespie’s plan to make the extravagant fashion parades one of the movie’s main highlights turned out perfectly. For the movie’s background score, it is a nonstop exhibition of classic songs. If there is one thing the movie gets right, it is the usage of each song to fit into each scene and transition in Cruella

The movie’s characters are wickedly entertaining and fun to watch. The 2hr 14min movie gives viewers two of the most twisted yet knavishly crafted characters in Disney. But the movie’s intention to give a backstory to the evil origin of Cruella backfires. In an attempt to make Emma Stone a perfect villain, Emma Thompson outshines her and embodies the true meaning of what a villain is. This is despite the fact that Emma Stone nails her titular role with her equally fiendish performance. Apart from the fact that she needs to be just as insane as the Baroness, which makes her switch to her alter ego, Cruella, the only evil or awful thing she does, is pushing her friends away. 

If Evil was a Person
Image via Disney

In other words, since the conception of the movie is borne out of knowing who is more villainous, Baroness Van Hellman’s narcissistic nature wins over Cruella’s innocuous personality. The outstanding and menacing performance from Emma Thompson shows that Cruella isn’t as nasty as the director wanted her to be. Cruella wants to be equally awful and evil like the Baroness but she barely meets her halfway. Maybe they’re equals in fashion, but she is merely the Baroness’ apprentice when it comes to being unpleasant. Cruella gives us the battle of the Emmas, one which is accompanied by great visuals. In a time where some movies even fail to fit into their genre, Cruella works well as a crime comedy. 

In Cruella, the director spends so much time trying to convince viewers that Cruella is the devil’s incarnate, a performance that was outsripped by Emma Thompson. The movie’s length might be a problem for some viewers as they might feel that Cruella didn’t unlock the darkness she threatens to unleash on the Baroness, and Cruella’s definition of evil is engaging in fashion parades (not like I have a problem with that). Cruella’s plot twists and revelations make the movie more special and captivating. But nonetheless, Disney’s Cruella delineates that being different is great and being bad can just turn out to be cool. 

Rating: 7/10

Side Musings

  • The moment Cruella sets herself on fire to reveal a ravishing red gown that knocks out the crowd is an undeniable fashion vista.
  • Emma Thompson’s portrayal of Baroness Van Hellman as a formidable chic character is flawless.
  • The one-eyed  dog reminds me of a sticker I use frequently. I chuckle at every scene he comes in.
  • Also, Paul Walter Hauser’s role as a petty thief makes the art of thievery exciting and comical (p.s.: we do not encourage this act on WKMUp, the movie made me do this).

Cruella is currently showing in theaters and on Disney+.

One comment

  1. This is a very beautiful analysis. I have seen the movie, but reading this review is not only interesting but also, education. Beautiful piece of analysis.

    Well done! Nothing comes close to the pleasure I derive now from reading this review after seeing the movie.

    Thanks for availing me this opportunity. Its lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

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