I’m going to whisper this quietly so nobody freaks out, *I’ve never seen the 1996 live action version of 101 Dalmatians*. Not the hugest cinematic crime, I know, but it does mean that I haven’t experienced the full glory of Glenn Close’s Cruella de Vil. I do, of course, have fond memories of the 1961 Disney animated original, and have always loved the character as one of Disney’s campest, most gloriously unhinged villains. As has been the case for many years now, it was only a matter of time before Cruella was given the origin story treatment, but what I will say in this case is that from the moment the project was announced, something about it felt right and appropriate. That’s certainly not something that can be said about every attempt to resurrect old Disney properties!
As you might expect, Cruella tells the story of a younger Cruella de Vil than we have seen before, beginning as young misfit Estella in her childhood (played by Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) before settling into 1970s London with Emma Stone guiding viewers through the character’s transformation as an aspiring fashion designer and part time grifter with a grudge to settle against rival fashionista Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson).
The first thing to say about Cruella, and the thing that I am positive it will be most remembered for, is the fact that is an absolute visual feast of a film. From top to bottom, the picture looks incredible, almost like a 1970s, over the top, ‘Disneyfied’ version of The Devil Wears Prada with fashion very much front and centre. Set in and around London fashion stores and houses, some real, some fictional, the costuming and overall aesthetic of the film provides sumptuous material to view in almost every single frame. From the classic 60s lines of the Baroness’ work to the anarchic, Vivienne Westwood style of Cruella’s creations, there is an attention to detail throughout that makes for really enjoyable viewing from a purely aesthetic point of view. Any single outfit on any single character is breathtaking!
Unfortunately, the narrative side of things don’t turn out to be quite a strong as the amazing visuals. The plot is rather messy in parts, and the perhaps the greatest crime committed is the length. A healthy chunk over two hours, Cruella really does feel rather bloated and over long. It feels in parts like the filmmakers knew they has a good thing going with Emma Stone (more on her later) and wanted to milk it for as long as they could, but what they forgot is that fast and snappy is always, *always* better for eccentric movies like this. An attempt to give the illusion of pace if clearly made by introducing an iconic 60s or 70s song what feels like every 45 seconds, but the breakneck editing of the music can’t cover up the fact that the film is definitely too long. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t claim to have been bored at any point, but the runtime and progression of plot at certain points did feel unnecessarily extended.
There’s really no other way to put this; Emma Stone is fucking great as Cruella de Vil. Deliciously camp and giving occasional glimpses of the true unhinged villainy to come for the character in the time of 101 Dalmatians, Stone is clearly having a ball in this role, and that definitely translates to audience enjoyment. Every now and then you see an actor in a role and think ‘I can’t imagine anyone else playing this’, and that’s how I felt watching Stone. There’s an air of Absolutely Fabulous, an air of The Devil Wears Prada, all wrapped up in this camp creation with a threat of chaos just behind the eyes at all times. She’s an absolute delight to watch and worth the price of admission alone. Her presence really does carry portions of the narrative, and she carries it effortlessly.
As Baroness von Hellman, you can’t ask for a higher quality co-star than Emma Thompson. The Baroness is even camper than Cruella, and once again, Thompson grabs the opportunity to be deliciously acidic and vicious with both hands. There is a real feeling of star power when either Stone or Thompson are on screen, and their scenes together are all kinds of fabulous. The visuals and the sheer actress magnetism cover a tonne of the narrative cracks in this film, but if you know me, you’ll know that I’ll forgive a multitude of sins if you give me great actresses. Every single time.
Overall, I think that Cruella probably ends up high on the ranking list of recent live action Disney projects, but in truth, the bar has never been set that high. Glorious visuals and glorious central performances from two bonafide star actresses make this on the whole, a pleasure to watch, I just wish somebody had been more ruthless in the edit. It’s definitely something that I can see myself going back to for aesthetic and soundtrack fun, but from a purely narrative perspective, Cruella isn’t going to be remembered as one of the great origin stories. Emma Stone, however, is not to be missed.