When it comes to Disney’s recent live-action “remakes,” more often than not, they come off a bit hollow and lack that magic that made their predecessors unique. With “Cruella,” however, this is less of a remake and more of an alternate origin story we didn’t know we wanted — and the film is all the better for it.
In Walt Disney Studios’ newest feature film, Academy Award winner Emma Stone (“La La Land”) steps into the black-and-white Louboutins of Cruella DeVil before she became the unhinged villain of the Disney classic, “101 Dalmatians.”
Set in 1970s London when punk rock was king, Cruella — then known as Estella — is a young grifter who is determined to make a name for herself in the fashion world. Befriending Horace and Jasper, two young thieves who love her desire for trouble, the trio make a life for themselves surviving on the streets.
One day, Estella’s eye for fashion catches the attention of the Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), a monarch of the fashion world who is as brilliant as she is wicked. What comes next is something I can only describe as “The Devil Wears Prada” meets “Ocean’s Eleven,” and it all leads to Estella falling away and Cruella coming into her own.
A film is nothing without its cast, and both Stone and Thompson are triumphs in “Cruella.” Constantly playing off of each other, you can sense just how much fun they were having being deliciously cruel, with just enough camp to remind you that this is, in fact, a Disney movie. What can be viewed as an allegory for the past being washed away by the future, Cruella and the Baroness are perfect foils of one another and are a joy to watch onscreen.
Director Craig Gillespie (“I, Tonya”) helms this unique story with precise control; every scene feels intentionally crafted down to the smallest detail, with even a few nods to the original animated and live-action films that came before. The script has bite and is witty to boot, and the graphic look of the visual effects used only add to the crude, dirty punk rock feel of the time period. My only gripe is that the film feels just a hair too long at 2 hours and 14 minutes.
Being set in the 1970s, I expected “Cruella” to have a few recognizable tunes from the era to help ground the setting — what I did not expect was near-constant needle drops of some of the most iconic rock ‘n roll songs to ever come out of the decade. One in particular, tucked in at the very end, was so perfect of an inclusion that it immediately sealed the deal for me and my opinion on the film.
Now, for the elephant-sized Dalmatian in the room: I know many are going to be apprehensive of an origin film for a Disney villain who ultimately wanted to turn actual puppies into a coat. I completely understand that you can’t retroactively make such a character likable, or give them some “reason” as to why they would commit such atrocities and feel justified. But with “Cruella,” it almost seems like it’s not so much asking for you to like her as it is for you to see her.
You might not walk out of “Cruella” having sympathy for the DeVil, but you’ll certainly come to understand her a bit more.
“Cruella” is rated PG-13 and features one mid-credits scene that fans of the original animated film won’t want to miss. The movie will release simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ as a Premier Access release on Friday, May 28, priced at $29.99. Once you have unlocked Premier Access, you’ll be able to watch it as long as you have a subscription to Disney+. If you’re not ready to return to the theaters and don’t want to pay the additional fee, you’ll have to wait three months before it’s available to watch for free on the streaming service.
Joe Spencer had other opinions on the film, which he talked about in the video review above, check it out.
In the Parks
While there’s no version of Stone’s Cruella meeting in the Disney Parks, you can occasionally find the classic animated version of the villain strolling around Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland park, as well as during rare and unannounced surprise appearances at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. More often than not, Cruella makes her most consistent appearances during Halloween events on both coasts.
Check out the latest trailer for the film below, and catch it in theaters or on Disney+ starting May 28.