I wonder if we’re coming to a point now where all of our popular cinematic villains in cinema now have to be misunderstood. It’s a good angle to explore and people do say the heroes are only as good as the villains they face so having films dedicated to exploring what makes theme evil is far from a bad idea. I’ll be honest, I thought it was going to be difficult for me to sympathise with a character that thinks animal cruelty is OK, yet here I am finding myself uttering words I never though I was doing to say… I enjoyed a live action Disney film.
101 Dalmatians might just have been one of the earliest Disney animated films I saw as a child. Thinking back to it, Cruella De Vil was most certainly the entire film’s wicked charisma. She seems to embody every dislikeable trait of a snob in high art or fashion. In this live action prequel, her character eventually evolves into the boots of the animated film, however as an added twist, a bit of punk attitude is thrown in. Cruella is setup as this misunderstood creative genius in fashion, that she never fitted in with the status quo and I think a lot of people are going to easily relate to this side of the character because anyone who has a creative mindset has at some point felt suppressed creatively. A quick sidebar, in the film Cruella’s real name is Estella, but I’m calling her Cruella here to avoid confusion.
Let’s move on to some of the performances, because in my mind, there are two people who absolutely carry the film on their shoulders. They would be Emma Stone as Cruella and Emma Thompson as The Baroness, Cruella’s boss and fashion mentor. Emma Stone is fabulously wicked as Cruella. Though this isn’t the first live action Cruella in cinema, some may associate that with Glenn Close’s portrayal, However I believe Emma Stone totally blitzes that portrayal. She has the same energy as the Glenn Close portrayal but what sets Stone apart is how when she portrays Cruella’s rebelliousness, she is completely the centre of attention, you cannot get your eyes off her. Emma Thompson as the Baroness is possibly more despicable that Cruella, some of the things she does makes her a disgusting person but the dynamic between her and Cruella is captivating. The one-upmanship contest between the two brings out the most disgusting Baroness traits, revealing just how uncaring she is towards other people.
As this is Cruella De Vil, you can’t leave out the origin story of her two henchmen Jasper and Horace (Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser). Although Horace’s character stays relatively the same as the animated counterpart, Jasper’s goofiness has been substituted for insightfulness. He appears much more intelligent and useful than Horace, plus he’s more observant to how Cruella is changing as a person, and he has his objections. Admittedly, it took me a while to accept Fry and Hauser as the two. To me, their appearance doesn’t seem like criminals, but eventually I warmed up to them.
This film, especially since the story follows Cruella trying to make it as a fashion designer, is the dream project for any fashion designers/make-up artist to work on. I absolutely love this film’s visual style. Again, it has a lot of punk influence with the outfits Cruella makes but there is also the showstopper flair and the statement making. I have no idea how many costumes were made for the making of this film but each one of them could looking like the talking point of any fashion show. On the hair and make-up side, all of the attention in on Cruella’s appearance and it absolutely matches the punk influence the film is going for. I especially admired how her wardrobe captures her anarchic arc. I think we already have an early contender for this year’s Oscar for costume design.
I think Disney would have had something remarkable with Cruella. Many people have already begun to call this film Disney’s “Joker”, and that’s not too far fetched a thought, however there were a couple of elements that restrained the film from completely taking on that title. Firstly in the film’s constant urge to have music play at every opportunity. I felt there were plenty of moments where the music didn’t help a scene at all and found myself thinking that the images alone would have been enough to get an emotional response from its audience. The music rarely drives home the punk attitude the film is going for.
I understand with a prequel film, a great way of getting a positive response from audiences is to tie the film’s events to the original, a lot of this in Cruella is done towards the finale of the film and this is where I felt the film lost a lot of its steam. Look at a film like Joker, where the only tying in it had to do was show Joker’s actions led to the death of Bruch Wayne’s parents. Cruella doesn’t really need to tie in any events for the same reason the Joker didn’t, because you have an interesting prequel story that quite comfortable stands on its own. If there’s one tie in moment that should have really been cut out it is the post credit scene, which I won’t spoil here.
Cruella is definitely the most likeable of Disney live action films, I adore the angle that was taken to explore the origins of Cruella De Vil and from a visual standpoint, it is one of the more unique looking of films this year, backed up by strong performances from both Emma’s. Cruella could have been something that transcended from greatness to brilliance, but the traps that many prequels have fallen into are ready to catch out this film as well. Nevertheless, absolutely see this film if you’re into fashion design, the costumes will blow you away.
Final Result: 8/10 – Very Good
Have you seen Cruella? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Next Time: A Quiet Place II