Cruella dives into the origins of the infamous 101 Dalmatians antagonist. Emma Stone is seriously great as the lead and another reason to praise the actress as well as the seemingly impeccable casting directors at Disney. Her performance is charming, unpredictable, and twisted. Though she is notoriously an insane criminal and dog-killer, she is likable in comparison to the other big Emma of the film. Emma Thompson plays a ruthless, egomaniacal fashion designer whose absolutely repulsive without a single redeeming quality. Her repugnance reminded me of Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, another evil, sadistic, fashion designer. Thompson portrays this narcissism and wickedness well, and the movie does a mostly good job, aside from a few lines, keeping her out of cartoonish territory. The relationship between the Emmas onscreen is easily a gripping anchor for the film’s story. Two other standouts are Cruella’s loyal surrogate brothers and sidekicks, played by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser. My favorite was especially Hauser, who is much more comedic (and British) than his other popular turns in films like I, Tonya, Richard Jewell and Da 5 Bloods, and nails every moment he’s on screen. As a fan of his, I was especially glad to see him be in a film with a wide audience like a Disney film.
Cruella‘s script manages to, for most of the runtime, distance itself from the famous story it’s inspired by, despite a few nods and a shoehorned post-credits scene thrown in for the Disney hardcore fans. It feels very much like a Craig Gillespie movie — like his previous film I, Tonya, it’s a fast-paced chronicle of a morally ambiguous woman’s journey into such obscurity. However, it’s the hyper-stylistic approach that’s most detrimental to the film. The soundtrack is a nonstop barrage of rock music with no room for silence or drama, with one popular rock song after the other, and the music choices being frankly on the nose and unoriginal (seriously, why do so many films use “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones?). Had the style kept some of this energy but toned it down to make scenes feel less fluffy and more dramatic for its villain, the movie would’ve resonated more. With such gorgeous production design and costumes that made me awe (and trust me, I don’t always notice beauty in costume design like I did in this film), as well as solid acting and writing, why didn’t Disney trust its audiences to stay engaged from these elements instead of throwing in popular music every second? There’s also a little too much narration for my taste, and you can tell this took inspiration from Scorsese’s hyper-style he trademarked with Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street — a style at least one big movie a year feels the urge to adapt. The movie’s script is best when it follows the psychotic nature of Cruella and her descent into darkness, which Stone wonderfully portrays and is the most intriguing part of the film. It’s also enjoyable to point out the similarities between Cruella and other popular solo movie villains like Joker and Harley Quinn (who headlined the considerably entertaining Birds of Prey), I only wish this movie embraced what worked so much about those two aforementioned films’ approach to their villains. And that’s not saying they should have gotten rid of the energy and fast pace — which does work once Estella becomes Cruella — just give the darker, more unpredictable moments of Stone’s performance room to breathe rather than be edited like a fun heist sequence from an Ocean’s Eleven movie. There’s also a few iffy moments of CGI, including the dogs and a scene involving water, that made me cringe. Cruella is entertaining, fashionable, and has fun with its concept, but feels boxed in by a soundtrack poorly edited into the film that weakens the impact of certain scenes and connections to the original IP that feel thrown in just to check boxes on a studio checklist. Those who are interested will enjoy it, as it’s certainly a good time that’s carried well by its cast, especially the insanity conveyed by Stone, but I feel like there was potential for a stronger film in the editing room.