Review: Disney’s 'Cruella' is a wickedly entertaining flick that breathes new life into the famous villain

Emma Stone and Emma Thompson outdo themselves in the live-action prequel to '101 Dalmatians'

Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney’s live-action reimagination of the classic villainess. Courtesy of Disney
Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney’s live-action reimagination of the classic villainess. Courtesy of Disney

Let’s face it, Cruella de Vil has long been a bit of a stereotypical, maybe even unimaginative, villain.

First introduced in Dodie Smith's 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians, and then showcased several times on the big screen over the years, her motivations have always been the same – to kidnap Dalmatian puppies and make a coat out of their fur.

It’s the sort of goal that is so outwardly evil it almost seems bizarre in hindsight. Why Dalmatians? Surely, you don’t need to harm puppies to create a stellar coat? Well, the new live-action Disney film Cruella, with Emma Stone starring as the titular character, attempts to answer these questions and more in a wickedly entertaining origins story.

I’ve never been a fan of the 101 Dalmatians movies, but as this film makes clear, you don’t need to be to enjoy it. If anything, Cruella could hold as a stand-alone for anyone who simply enjoys high fashion, bold characters, fast plots and, well, adorable dogs.

Set in 1970s London, Cruella starts at the beginning: the titular character's birth. Through scenes interspersed with voice-over, you’re immediately enthralled by the young monochrome-haired character, originally named Estella, who lives by her own rules, doesn’t mind making a little mischief and is confident enough to declare herself a “genius”.

Despite the fact she’s a skilled thief, fashion is where her heart truly belongs, so it isn’t long before fate, talent and a bit of fibbing gets her an apprenticeship with Baroness von Hellman, excellently played by Emma Thompson.

As the head of a fashion house, Hellman does bear a certain resemblance to The Devil Wears Prada's Miranda Priestly, which is probably where the numerous comparisons between both characters stem from. And with Estella in the role of her understated yet talented assistant, this does give off the same vibes as the Meryl Streep film.

However, it isn’t long before a complicated history – and the need for revenge – has Estella unleash her alter ego, Cruella. This sets off a sequence of events that involve brilliant ensembles, high-speed chases, heists and daring fashion shows, all set to a lively and high-spirited soundtrack.

The plot is fast-paced to really pack in all the events, and that’s a good thing, because a lull would have you wondering about certain plot holes. But it certainly does what it aims to do: show the legendary Cruella de Vil in a new, maybe even relatable, light, as an antihero whose reputation is tarnished by the media. She admits she may be a little “mad”, but that’s also what’s needed to get the job done.

One of the biggest criticisms of the movie, made when it was first announced, was of its very existence. After all, there has been several unnecessary prequels over the years, each attempting to focus on famous, well-loved characters, as a cash grab.

“In every lull in the film, I found myself trying to figure out why exactly Cruella exists, entertaining as it is,” The Verge reviewer Alex Cranz said.

A OScott of The New York Times wasn't a fan, either. "Its main purpose is to remind you that other movies exist, which might describe Disney's current business strategy as a whole," he said.

Writing for RogerEbert.com, Matt Zoller Seitz had issues with the script. "The Cruella screenplay is in that vein, or sometimes it tries to be. But it's a mess, and it often seems to pause to remind itself that it's supposed to have something to do with 101 Dalmatians," he said.

They're right. There’s absolutely no need for this movie, as it fits the profile of yet another famous character origin story, led by a star cast. But, for the purpose of pure entertainment, I'm very glad it exists.

Cruella is in UAE cinemas from Thursday

Updated: May 27, 2021 04:21 PM

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