May 28, 2021 Cruella (Movie Review)
They are women, hear them roar! Academy Award winners Emma Stone and Emma Thompson star in the first blockbuster of summer 2021, Cruella, which simultaneously arrives in theaters and on Disney+ on Friday, May 28, 2021 thanks to Walt Disney Studios. (For Disney+ viewings, please note that a one-time additional fee for Premier Access applies.)
Set in 1970s London amidst the heart of the Punk Rock Revolution, the brand new live-action feature film obviously centers around notorious fashionista and legendary villainess Cruella de Vil (Stone: Easy A 2010, La La Land 2016). This tale starts with a slightly mad genius who loves art and trouble, a young girl named Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland: The Little Stranger 2018, Krypton series), whose life is turned upside down in the span of minutes. But when one door closes another opens, and this grubby girl with a bit of an extreme side encounters two peculiar pickpockets—Jasper (Joel Fry: 10,000 BC 2008, Yesterday 2019) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser: I, Tonya 2017, BlacKkKlansman 2018)—who soon become family.
Reincarnation is a running theme for Estella, who eventually lands her dream job working for the infamous Baroness von Hellman (Thompson: Sense and Sensibility 1995, Saving Mr. Banks 2013), a fashion legend who is devastatingly chic and terrifyingly haute. But their working relationship sets in motion a course of events that will cause the young designer to embrace her wickedness and become the raucous, revenge-bent hellion known as Cruella.
As punk rock as it is, and as often as one can almost hear Tim Gunn tenderly whispering in Estella’s ear (“Make it work!”), Cruella oddly misses the mark on its key demographic: children. While it is a quality production with every possible luxury taken, exactly what one would expect of the latest from Disney, the film is shockingly aimed at a more mature audience—it is, afterall, a Crime-Comedy. This, of course, isn’t to say that you can’t allow your youngsters to partake, but the film’s plot and extraneously lengthy 134-minute runtime are not likely to hold the attention of anyone under twelve. Likewise, much of the film’s magic can be found in its audacious, avant-garde fashions, a fact that is not likely to impress your Kindergartener.
But if you’re a teenager or a fun-loving adult, Cruella has a lot to offer. Stone and Thompson beautifully depict two narcissistic supernovas that collide in a pile of silk, crushing those beneath them as they battle for fashion supr-Emma-cy. As these two divas of the big screen take us on a devastatingly chic ride through the dog eat dog streets of London, the film is quick to defy expectations, placing itself closer to Dickens (Great Expectations, Oliver Twist) than those fun-loving Dalmatians. It is, in some senses, a story of hard work and determination in the face of adversity, rising above one’s station through perseverance. (Not always legally, however.)
It goes without saying that Stone is divine as the titular character, bringing some much-needed heart and soul to Cruella’s backstory. Punk Rock to the core, but still very much a little girl who misses her mother (Emily Beecham: Daphne 2017, Little Joe 2019), Stone’s nuanced and entertaining portrayal never goes so far as to make the classic Disney villain a sympathetic character, though it still offers an additional dimension to Miss de Vil: the anti-hero. It’s a role that is apt to make people talk, one that shows the diversity of the talented actress. And it pits Stone against Thompson, an equally impressive force to be reckoned with. As the snarky Baroness, the elder Emma is elegant, refined, and abominable, a woman who will stop at nothing—both personally and professionally. Her lethal poise will make your skin crawl!
Diametrically opposed in their roles, though Cruella and The Baroness have much more in common than they would ever admit, Stone and Thompson hold down a cast that is chock full of talent. With wonderful performances from the likes of Mark Strong (Shazam! 2019, 1917 2019), Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Love series, The Good Place series), Ed Birch (The Hurricane Heist 2018, Wonder Woman 1984 2020), and many, many more, Cruella is more than just its eye-catching visuals.
Included in this phenomenal ensemble is John McCrea (Everybody’s Talking About Jamie 2018, Giri/Haji series), who gets to channel his inner Bowie for the androgynous Artie. A stand-out, Artie represents a rarity in Disney films: an openly LGBTQ+ character who proudly raises their middle finger to gender “norms.” Representing the first Disney role that comes anywhere near non-binary, at least that we are aware of, McCrea is an attention-grabber for only the best reasons: he brings Artie’s fabulousness to life with a joy that is infectious.
And the same can be said for Stone: she brings Cruella de Vil to the big screen with a devilish delight that makes her mayhem contagious. A good thing considering the film’s lofty runtime, though, at any length, it’s hard to deny the allure of Jenny Beavan’s savage costume design, the funky ‘70s soundtrack that accompanies Stone’s foibles, or, well, that stupendous cast.
So it might not be a perfect film, and Disney still continues to struggle with diversity within their productions, Cruella is an intriguing offering—provided you understand that it’s end goal is haute vengeance, not cuddly puppies. So much as Wicked is not intended for quite the same demographic as The Wizard of Oz, Cruella is more likely to tickle your teen’s fancy than your toddler’s. Still rebellious teenagers at heart, Cryptic Rock gives Cruella 4 of 5 stars. Stay for the credits!