Of the Disney live action remakes, this is the one that seemed the most inexplicable. I kind of guessed that after the success of Maleficent we would get more films about the Disney villains, but I didn’t really expect Cruella de Vil would be one of them. However, I was intrigued when it was announced that two of the people involved in the making of the film would be Craig Gillespie and Tony McNamara, so there was the potential for this to be a good dark comedy, or at least as dark as you can get with Disney. The film itself, I found to be pretty entertaining.
Taking place in 1970s London, the film revolved around Estella Miller, an aspiring fashion designer making her living as a thief with colleagues Horace and Jasper. After getting an entry level position at a department store, and later earning the attention of acclaimed designer The Baroness, Estella ends up gaining the confidence of The Baroness. However, after finding out that the Baroness has some involvement in traumatic events from her past, Estella launches a campaign against The Baroness, taking on the persona of Cruella de Vil. Now the parts of the film that don’t work are where it is more explicitly tied into 101 Dalmatians. These moments come across as forced and end up taking away from what the film is trying to do. When it focuses on the original story though, the film does work. It does end up positioning itself as more of a dark comedy focused on the fashion world and bringing in the punk aesthetic and there is a good bit of fun to be had. It also works in that it doesn’t 100% make Cruella a sympathetic character. It does show that Cruella has a mean streak, but also that she loves indulging in this streak, showing herself as a megalomaniacal character that has used the events of the film to fully indulge herself. There are moments of understanding towards Cruella which make her a more well rounded character, but she is also someone that enjoys being a villain and will embrace her more anarchic sensibilities in the future.
The performances really help with making the film work. Emma Stone is clearly having a lot of fun as Cruella, showing her glee at indulging in her worst impulses, whilst at the same time showing some of the humanity inside Cruella and we get an understanding as to how Cruella ended up being more of a villain. Emma Thompson meanwhile steals the film every time she’s on screen. Thompson is someone who relishes playing an over the top baddie and playing someone as vile as The Baroness, who eclipses Cruella in villainy throughout the film, allows Thompson to go full over the top ham. Every time Thompson is on screen she oozes menace and intimidation, making her a character you love to hate. Something I didn’t expect in the film was for Horace and Jasper to be the emotional core, but the performances of Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser make them the most sympathetic characters in the film as you feel their growing disappointment in how they are treated as Cruella rises and their chemistry with Stone make them pretty compelling characters. There are fun performances from John McCrea and Jamie Demetriou, whilst Emily Beecham, Kayvan Novak and Kirby Howell-Baptiste are fine but underutilised. I will say though that Mark Strong is completely wasted in the film. His role is pretty much solely to deliver exposition and even then his pivotal scene feels rushed.
The technical elements of the film are pretty solid for the most part. The production design and costume design, creating the aesthetics of 1970s London and the punk scene are excellent, the costume design for Cruella in particular and how it has a clear colour structure for her, providing a good contrast with the costumes of the Baroness. This is enforced by the cinematography that is pretty good at conveying the styles of Cruella and the Baroness. The music meanwhile is a mixed bag. Nicholas Britell’s score is pretty good, but is barely in the film, instead the film relies on needle drops. There are some good songs in there, but most of them don’t really fit the film and made me think of other time’s they were used. For example Fire by Ohio Players is in here, which immediately put me in mind of Hell’s Kitchen US and, of course, Sympathy for the Devil turns up. The CG used for the dalmatians meanwhile is pretty terrible and there were very few moments where I believed the dalmatians were on screen, which also results in some pretty poor editing around them.
Overall, Cruella is a pretty decent film that is prevented from being a strong dark comedy by the constraints of being a Cruella de Vil film. If it was solely focused on Cruella and the Baroness, it would have worked a lot better but every attempt to tie it into 101 Dalmatians just makes it fall apart. Thankfully, these moments are not too numerous and it can be enjoyed as a stand alone film, but it could have been more subversive and, as a result, a better film.
My Rating: 3.5/5