Cruella is a campy comedy crime caper that tells the origin story of one of the most iconic villains in cinematic history – especially if you’re a dog lover. It’s a prequel to the 1996 live action adaptation of Disney’s 1961 animated classic 101 Dalmatians based on the 1956 novel by Dodie Smith. Got all that? Like the character herself, there are a couple of different sides to Cruella the film. It’s based on a “kids movie” but is rated PG-13 and has a soundtrack that will land squarely in the wheelhouse of many adult viewers. The dialogue is witty and the themes are dark. And it stars two Emmas — Stone and Thompson — who both know how to land a dramatic punch and a punchline. Cruella could use a nip and a tuck here and there to bring the film under two hours (it runs 134 minutes) but overall it’s a fun watch.
The film follows the journey of a rebellious young grifter named Estella as she breaks into the world of fashion design and ultimately transitions into the wickedly talented and revenge-bent Cruella de Vil. Her story begins with the tragic death of her mother. That’s not really a spoiler ’cause this is the land of Disney where parents never seem to fare well. Without her mother’s influence to keep her on the straight and narrow, the orphan Estella falls in with a pair of thieves, Jasper (Joel Fry, Love Wedding Repeat) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser, Richard JewelI, I Tonya) who become her makeshift family. The guys have Estella’s back as she goes to work for her Devil Wears Prada-like boss, the Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson, How to Build a Girl, Late Night) a fashion legend who doesn’t exactly give credit where credit is due.
So how and why exactly did Estella turn evil? That’s for the movie itself to reveal. Rest assured, no dogs were harmed in the making of Cruella. But the film does set the stage for Cruella’s affinity for Dalmatians – and their stylish fur. In fact, after watching Cruella, I felt compelled to check out the 1961 101 Dalmatians (available on Disney+) to see how the pieces might fit together. (I don’t think I ever saw the 1996 live action version with Glenn Close, so maybe that’s next).
101 Dalmatians is told from the dogs’ perspective – as Pongo and Perdy pull one over on Cruella to save their litter and dozens more Dalmatians kidnapped by Cruella’s henchmen Jasper and Horace. Cruella is told from Estella/Cruella’s perspective. Makes for an interesting double-feature. Let’s just say times have changed since 1961!
Bottom Line: the cast and soundtrack elevate Cruella into something older kids and adults can enjoy, though it’s likely to go over the heads of younger kids. And chances are you’ll have Cruella’s ‘theme song’ stuck in your head for a while. Cruella De Vil, Cruella De Vil, If she doesn’t scare you, No evil thing will…
Final note – stick around for a mid-credits scene. It’s kind of important to the larger story…
Arty Chick’s take: I was thoroughly entertained and agree with Mainstream Chick that the cast and soundtrack are a huge part of that. It’s campy and funny and the design, from the clothes and hair to the sets to the camerawork, all added to my enjoyment. Both Emmas are wonderful, but Emma Thompson was just having so much fun with her role, I couldn’t wait for the film to get back to her. I’d have liked a bit more of Mark Strong, but maybe in the sequel he can be a sort of Alfred. And yes, I loved the dogs!
Walt Disney Studios’ Cruella is being released simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access for a onetime additional fee on Friday, May 28. It runs 134 minutes and is rated PG-13.