Director: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Mark Strong
Written by: Dana Fox, Tony McNamara, (story) Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel, Steve Zissis and (based upon the novel “One Hundred and One Dalmatians”) Dodie Smith
Running Time: 134 mins
Release date: 28th May 2021
In a time when we are encouraged to recycle, Disney seems to be leading the way. Taking classic movies and giving them new slants, whether in CGI or live-action, have had various success. From the wonderful (The Jungle Book, Cinderella) to the good (Beauty and the Beast) to the not-so-good (The Lion King, Dumbo) Now comes Cruella, the third time the company have dipped into the source material One Hundred and One Dalmatians, which they had a massive hit in 1961. A prequel or origins story of its lead villain, Cruella De Vil, but where does it sit among the reimagined stories?
Estella is a rebellious young girl who dreams of being a fashion designer. When tragedy hits her life, she is left lost and alone in London, only to befriend Horace and Jasper, two street urchins. Years later, the threesome is now a dysfunctional family pickpocketing around the capital. Yet Estella’s dream has never diminished until she gets the opportunity to work for renowned designer The Baroness. When Estella discovers that her new boss has a necklace left to her by her mother, she seeks revenge the only way she knows, by creating an alter-ego fashion designer called Cruella.
The first thing to say about this reboot is that it is the most un-Disney Disney film ever. Set in the pre-punk days of London, director Craig Gillespie, who gave us the brilliant I, Tonya, has given us a style-fest of the period, brimming with fashion and, in particular, a soundtrack to die for. From the likes of The Kinks, The Doors, Blondie and The Clash, Gillespie uses the choice of songs to fill the action, and not just heading down the route of well-worn songs that appear in every movie (not a sign of London’s Calling here).
Set in the world of 1970s high fashion, the costume is breath-taking, mainly when Cruella appears. One outfit with a train that goes on forever will win the designers some plaudits over the next year. Gillespie has captured the mood of the time while never forgetting that this is a fantasy, whether it be using Route Master buses to the old 70s police cars. Attention to detail is spot-on.
Deciding not to revamp the live-action version, which already exists of 101 Dalmatians, the film in which Glenn Close took the lead (Close is an executive producer here), this feels more like a superhero movie origins tale. There are moments you think it will turn into Joker as it has moments when it gets very dark indeed (the first ten minutes will have your jaw drop). Yet injections of humour and some terrific performances keep the film from crossing the line into brutal. Be aware, however, that this does have some moments that will surprise you with how dark it gets.
Where the film shines are in the performances. Mark Strong gives us another solid Mark Strong performance as the butler to the Baroness. John McCrea is fun as Artie, a Bowie-esque owner of a second-hand shop Estella gets some inspiration. There’s also a nice modern twist in the casting of Roger and Anita, with Kayvan Novak and Kirby Howell-Baptiste taking on the roles of the couple in the original (although here they never meet).
Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser shine as Jasper and Horace. Fry being the smarter of the two while Hauser, giving his best Dick Van Dyke cockerney accent, inject plenty of fun into the proceedings and lighten the otherwise darker moments with some neat slapstick and banter.
The star of the film is the two Emmas, Ms Stone and Thompson. Emma Thompson, as the evil, egomaniac Baroness chews up every scene she appears in, spits it out and then chews on it again. Nasty, vindictive and with an acid tongue, Thompson relishes every inch of screen time. It’s the best villainess performance seen on screen in a long time, and it is worth the admission price to see her give the most entertaining role of her life. The film could have easily been called Baroness.
Emma Stone manages to do something extraordinary. She has made one of Disney’s most memorable villains and made her sympathetic. Her actions all have a reason. She isn’t pure evil; just a girl pushed due to the events of her life. Stone is terrific in this, looking incredible as the black and white titular character who perfectly captures a punk attitude. We get a fully rounded person who grows throughout the film among the frantic camerawork and musical mastery. Stone had studied the animated version, particularly noticeable in the sequence where Cruella is being chased through the streets of London, driving her sports car and hitting everything in sight. The way she hunches over the steering wheel is exactly like her animated counterpart.
If there is criticism, it has to be the length. At a hefty 2 hours and 14, it does feel baggy in places. It could have done with a trim here and there. The film is a hugely enjoyable reimagination with plenty to praise. If you are looking for a half-term treat, this could be the one to go for, but be warned that younger children may find things a little too adult.
4 out of 5
(Cruella is available both in cinemas and on Disney+ as part of its Premium Access for subscribers at £19.99)