As human beings, we especially want to learn to understand others. Understand them. Likewise with the most iconic villains. That new trend now yields Cruella , an origin story for the iconic martyr of 101 Dalmatian puppies . It’s one of the most successful live-action remakes Disney has ever produced, but it still begs the question: Was this the right angle for this character?
A traumatic image from my youth that should not be underestimated is that of a crazy woman with black and white hair. She is chasing a family of dogs with a car that is half apart with a hysterical look in her eyes. Cruella DeVil. A most memorable villain, because she looked so eccentric and admittedly, Earl, but also because she was targeting a pack of dogs for seemingly no reason. Dogs, the best creatures out there.
And that “for no reason”, that’s the zone where Disney now gets the mustard for this new story in their live action stable. Cruella DeVil is now Estella, who as a young girl (a feisty portrayal of Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) is sent to a boarding school by her mother Catherine (Emily Beecham) in the hopes that her rebellious and sometimes mean nature – that her mother ‘Cruella’ as a nickname – which will weaken. In vain: when she goes too far, they have to move to London. Unfortunately, they don’t have enough money for that, so Catherine goes to ask the Baroness (Emma Thompson) for help. Due to an unfortunate incident during the party where Estella lets herself go again, her mother is killed. Estella has no one left and lives on the streets until she meets the equally young orphans Jasper and Horace, who survive by stealing.
A decade later, the trio has not fared badly, but they still live outside society. Estella (Emma Stone) always makes up their disguises and that’s why Jasper (Joel Fry) wants to give something back. He gets her a job at a shop owned by the Baroness, Britain’s most influential designer. There she is soon noticed by the fashion goddess and her career takes off. But then Estella learns a sinister secret from the Baroness and is determined to overthrow her role model. Her alter ego Cruella resurfaces, and she keeps on going…
Cuts both ways
Let me start with the good news: You’re going to have some fun watching Cruella , whether it’s on Disney+ or in theaters (just do the second one, and you’ll love it!). This is The Devil Wears Prada with a revenge plot, beautiful costumes and a delightful villain with a British accent. You could do worse on a lazy Friday night.
Emma Thompson is the highlight of the film, more over-the-top than Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestley, with venomous one-liners and wacky streaks. In addition, the spotlight falls away from Emma Stone. She puts in a good performance, but maybe sticks to Estella’s innocent side for a little too long, suddenly having to switch a little too high with the evil looks and it doesn’t always come across well. And her accent… Well, few people in England are that posh anymore. There’s something campy about it, I guess.
A pleasant surprise for me, in any case, is that Jasper in particular suddenly becomes the character that you as a viewer can relate to the most. He is remarkably solid and continues to give Estella the benefit of the doubt, and Emma Stone’s chemistry with Joel Fry is very sweet. It’s cliché of me, but I would have liked to see more of it. Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), on the other hand, is little more than comic relief. Kirby Howell-Baptiste barely gets a role to speak of as Anita.
It may not sound like it, but this is definitely one of my favorite Disney live-action remakes to date. I have to be honest, I’ve only seen a few. Cinderella: seriously underrated, Jungle Book: technically amazing, but I already didn’t like the original, and Beauty and the Beast : good, but wanted to do a little too much in certain places.
And there is also something beautiful to see at Cruella from a technical point of view. Oscar winner Jenny Beavan’s costumes will delight all fashion fans and inspire many a cosplayer. The music, both the soundtrack and the score by Nicholas Britell ( The Underground Railroad ), also linger thanks to punk and jazz influences respectively. Director Craig Gillespie ( I, Tonya ) and cinematographer (and Belgian) Nicolas Karakatsanis also bring some visual flair to the screen, with plenty of color contrast as Cruella comes to the fore. They can’t hide all CGI backgrounds equally well, though.
These kinds of films can often have a hypnotic effect, like a rollercoaster in an amusement park. (I’m not taking Disneyland because I haven’t been there yet.) During the ride you’re there and you enjoy the spectacle, but afterwards I sometimes think: “Was it now?”
Good remakes add something to the animated movies in my opinion, something contemporary and something that was missing in the old versions. But in a subtle way. In Cinderella , the prince became more than an inscrutable figure she aspires to. In the Beauty and the Beast , Belle gets some more depth, but there is a little too much emphasis on what a girl boss Belle is.
Here the message is more ambiguous: Should we support Estella? Yes, she had few opportunities because society would rather reject the poor than give them opportunities. But she chose to dedicate her life to stealing from others.