Cruella (2021) Review

Cruella (2021)
Director: Craig Gillespie
Screenwriter: Dana Fox, Tony McNamara
Starring: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser

Given the current Hollywood model of churning out sequels, prequels, remakes and reboots one could be forgiven for looking at 2015’s Cinderella as the first film in Disney’s current line of live-action remakes. However, upon closer inspection it is apparent that the company’s obsession with cashing in on the success of previously successful properties began over ten years ago with the live-action remake of Alice in Wonderland. Though the output was much slower pre-2015’s Cinderella, the studio very obviously were finding out just how much money could be made via adaptations, remakes, reboots, spin-offs, sequels and prequels of already established properties. On top of the healthy box office profits that could be made, these movies also obtained characters, worlds and lore that were already established with audiences, therefore needing much less development on the screen in these areas. Soon after Cinderella came unwelcomed Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, remakes such as The Jungle Book and The Lion King, and perhaps most interestingly Maleficent. 

With Maleficent came the brilliant idea to create live-action pictures from the perspectives of Disney’s greatest villains, creating a sympathetic portrayal of the much loathed “baddies”. Though Maleficent was not a hit critically, there is no denying the creativity behind the idea. Rather surprisingly, Disney made no further attempts at this approach. Until Now.

With Cruella comes the story of Cruella de Vil, the iconic villain from Disney’s classic 1961 animated film One Hundred and One Dalmatians.

In a very clever decision by Disney, Craig Gillespie, the man who made the most hated woman in sports history sympathetic with his movie I, Tonya, was signed on to direct, the logic being that if he could have us sympathising with Tonya Harding then he could make us sympathise with anyone, including a Dalmatian-murdering fashion designer. Sadly, though Gillespie holds up his end of the deal, Disney do not, producing a weak script that almost derails an otherwise promising production.

In order to create sympathy for a character such as Cruella de Vil it must first be made clear how she got to where she is in One Hundred and One Dalmatians. The idea as to why Cruella would detest Dalmatians is effective in its simplest form, creating an understandable reason for Cruella’s evil action towards the animals, but as a fleshed out idea the events that cause Cruella’s hatred of the dogs is… daft. This is made worse by the fact that later in the film the event does not even affect Cruella’s feeling towards Dalmations and by the end of the film she seems to like the dogs more than hate them, leaving us no closer to the Cruella we know and love to hate.

This is just one of the ways the screenplay struggles with Cruella’s arc, offering a descent into evil that feels as Joker-esque as pre-release promotional material had suggested, whilst being unable to offer the same depth. Emma Stone shines, often carrying the movie on her back, but it remains clear throughout that the conceptual quality of this narrative is not strong enough to stand on its own. 

As enjoyable as Stone is in the lead role, it is Emma Thompson who truly steals the show with her own villain Baroness von Hellman. Thompson brings this dastardly character to life with a charismatic performance, one that works to highlight the few outstanding aspects of the screenplay.

It comes as no surprise, then, that when Stone and Thompson share the screen Cruella is at its most irresistible. This is particularly evident in a scene in which Cruella performs a series of publicity stunts over the tune of Blondie’s “One Way Or Another”.

It’s a great moment, but one that highlights the same discrepancies in the film’s soundtrack as those found throughout the rest of the production – it being a mixed bag. Both the soundtrack and the screenplay are filled to the brim with great ideas, but the execution of each remains just short of perfect, each barraging the screen with as much as possible rather than taking a more measured and therefore palatable approach.

Though the soundtrack is far from perfect, it does do a very good job of recreating the 70s setting in which Cruella takes place. The set design also works to create a believable 70s setting whilst also creating eye-catching imagery that makes for a generally quite beautiful film. Perhaps the greatest aspect of Cruella are the costumes however, as not only do they work well to represent the decade in which the film takes place but they also reflect the world of fashion in which Cruella exists. The future is as yet unclear, but Cruella must already be considered amongst the front-runners for production design and costume design at the 2022 Oscars. 

Cruella isn’t perfect, but relative to other Disney remakes and re-imaginings it does feel fresh. It’s fun and imaginative, and whilst it’s far from perfect (and in many ways not very good at all), it maintains a brisk pace and succeeds in offering a hearty cinematic experience. Even the harshest of critics can’t say no to Cruella. 


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