Director(s): Craig Gillespie
Writer(s): Dana Fox, Tony McNamara
Cast: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser
Synopsis: A live-action prequel feature film following a young Cruella de Vil.
One could argue that Cruella de Vil is one of the most notorious villains to ever be created. Her story arc, as we have come to know, is one of a fashion designer who wants to skin Dalmation puppies to use for fur coats. From the small bits we have seen of her we never fully got a backstory of her life, and before this film I never thought we needed one, which makes doing something like this that much riskier.
The tone of this film is clearly much darker than the rest of the Disney Remakes. There is a choice made early in the film which shows how dark this movie can get. It completely caught me off guard, but was an early showcase of the risks that are taken in the film. This film, while lighthearted and funny at times, really is a much darker and bolder story than anything the rest of Disney has done. While it isn’t anywhere near an R rating, this is the first of the Disney Remakes that I think isn’t made for the family. While for some people that might turn them off, I happened to really enjoy the more “adult” story that came from this film.
Emma Stone proves why she is one of the best actresses working in Hollywood. She provides the perfect amount of fire to spark the de Vil inside of her. She is snarky and confident and so full of fire throughout the entire movie. She’s essentially playing two roles with two personalities inside her and she makes you really care and root for this character. She is seemingly at war with Emma Thompson, seeking vengence throughout the film, and you never really know how far Cruella will go to find her peace. This leads to her and Thompson playing games of mental chess that continuously keeps you on your toes throughout the film, and it was truthfully just such a blast to watch. They are each so clever and sassy in their characters and it becomes fun to watch them go at each other.
The supporting characters get there time to shine as well as Joel Fry is the call back to Earth for Cruella and Paul Walter Hauser is the comedic relief master he has always been. Each of these two characters really fit well into their roles in the film, but I do wish Fry was given just a little bit more to do. He was really the “big brother” character to Cruella and he only ever got to be one role throughout the film. I was hoping for more expansion within his character giving him something to really hold on to, but we never really got that with this film.
Craig Gillespie is incredibly stylistic in this movie, and for the most part it works. The film looks and sounds beautiful, as the soundtrack is a hit and the costumes are some of the best I have seen on screen in a long time. There’s this punk/rock vibe that Gillespie tries to capture, and he not only captures it wonderfully, but leans all the way into it. It’s definitely a vibe I never really felt from Cruella de Vil, but I am glad Gillespie saw it. This film is filled with enough angst to make any early-2000s teen feel seen in this world. He also really tried to root this film in realism with a more grounded approach in the cinematography, including well placed moments of shaky cam, that I enjoyed.
I will say there were times when the look of the film wasn’t all the way there. Some of the CGI was massively underwhelming, including a trio of Dalmatians that never once looked realistic, and some of the more pivotal moments were done in such a dark atmosphere that it was hard to see what exactly was going on. For a movie that is as vibrant and colorful as this one, there seemed to be a dark hue to the entire movie that felt at war with the beautiful costumes. This film is also pretty long sitting at a little over 2 hours, but there was truthfully little I would have taken out of the film. If anything I just would have replaced some moments with a more fleshed out Jasper (Fry) instead.
This story isn’t directly a prequel to 101 Dalmations like I thought before I went into this, but it is an interestingly enough retelling. In this version, while Cruella is still devilish, she has reasoning behind her actions. She also has morals, which the original version of Cruella clearly did not. This is a Cruella you can root for and not feel bad about, and I think that was the best way for this film to go. This was a risky film to make, but the reward that came from it was one of Disney’s best and most exciting remakes, and proof that a more adult story can really garner a good Disney film.
Final: Cruella is as diabolical as one would think, but is also the right amount of clever, funny, witty, and sassy to make this one of Disney’s absolute best, and riskiest, live action outings. Emma Thompson is brilliantly mad, and Emma Stone is in top form as her vengeful and deranged Cruella de Vil takes over the film at every moment. The punk/rock style and soundtrack spark, the costumes are some of the best I have seen in a while, and even though it might be long it’s a total blast.
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.