The Bank Holiday weekend is upon us (Memorial Day weekend if you live in the US), and Walt Disney Pictures would be very happy if you spent a couple of hours of your free time in their company. And to tempt you into doing this, the Mouse House has released Cruella – a big budget, live-action movie focusing on Cruella de Vil.
Directed by Craig Gillespie, Cruella stars Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Paul Walter Hauser and Mark Strong. The film is based on characters from Dodie Smith’s novel, The Hundred and One Dalmatians, and tells the story of a young fashion designer who will one day become one of Disney’s most iconic villains.
Set during the 1970s, the movie follows Estella – a misfit who is orphaned as a child. With no family to look after her, Estella forms a bond with two pickpockets, and together the trio steal wallets from unsuspecting Londoners in order to get by.
But as Estella grows older, it becomes apparent that pickpocketing is not the life she wishes to lead – she longs to become a top fashion designer instead. And sure enough, she soon gets her wish when she lands a job with The Baroness – London’s leading fashionista.
Although she initially respects The Baroness, and works hard to please her, Estella quickly realises that her boss is a heartless woman. Worst of all, The Baroness was responsible for Estella becoming an orphan – a revelation that is simply unforgivable.
Keen to extract her revenge, Estella adopts the persona of Cruella – a show-stopping socialite, with the power to out shine The Baroness at every opportunity. And outshine her she does, but soon Cruella finds herself locked in battle with her foe, while going on a journey of self-discovery that reveals key details about her childhood.
Cruella opens in UK and US cinemas today, but if you are not ready to head out to the big screen just yet (or you simply don’t have the time), you can opt to watch the movie from the comfort of your own home, via Disney+. Cruella is available through Disney+ Premier Access, which gives you the opportunity to watch the film as many times as you like for a one-off rental fee.
I opted for the cinema for this one, and I believe I made the correct choice. At £4.99 for my ticket, I felt entertained enough for what was on offer. Had I shelled out a £19.99 rental fee through Disney+, I would have emailed Disney and asked for £15 back.
Cruella isn’t a bad movie, let me make that clear now; but it’s not an outstanding movie either. It is somewhat of a misfire, which feels too long, too scrappy, and too underwhelming.
Cruella is one of those movies which has been on my radar for a little while now. I am a fan of the 1961 animated One Hundred and One Dalmatians movie, and I have a soft spot for the ‘90s/’00s live-action movies featuring Glenn Close.
For me, Close was perfect in the role of Cruella de Vil, and for a long time I couldn’t imagine anyone taking her place. But when I heard that Emma Stone was set to appear in a new movie, playing a younger de Vil, I was delighted.
Stone is a great actress, and thanks to her roles in Easy A (2010), La La Land (2016), and The Amazing Spider-Man movies (2012/2014), I felt she would be well suited for the role of Cruella. Stone has a certain spunk that she brings to all of her roles and with a part like this one, I was hopeful that she would really let go and bring life to this cartoon character.
Having now watched Cruella, I can confirm that Stone was the right choice for this role. Every time she is given the opportunity to let rip in this movie, and delve into the cruel side of Cruella, she gives it her all, camping it up to the max in the process.
The problem is, she is held back far too often. Stone spends too much time as Estella, who is quite frankly the less interesting persona of this tale.
This isn’t Stone’s fault; it’s the fault of the story, which constantly asks her to switch back and forth between the two characters. As soon as she transforms into Cruella, the screen sparkles, but once she goes back to being Estella, the screen loses something.
Both performances are good, and Stone manages to provide two different sides to the same coin. The problem is, the movie is called Cruella and that’s where the focus should be, but the constant switching back and forth, as well as some terrible pacing issues, slows things down and stops Stone from hitting her stride.
But Stone also has an even bigger problem, and it goes beyond the story. That problem is Emma Thompson.
Thompson plays The Baroness, who is without doubt the standout character in the movie. She shines at every opportunity, and gets all of the best lines.
The two actresses are great in this film, but Thompson has the edge. And by the end of the movie, I enjoyed watching The Baroness far more than I enjoyed watching Cruella, which is slightly worrying when this is a Cruella de Vil origin story.
And speaking of Cruella’s origin, I found it quite difficult to buy into the idea of Cruella as the ruthless character we all know and love. Sure, there are moments in this movie that hint at such darkness, including a scene in which Cruella contemplates skinning some Dalmatians, but then the character moves away from that idea and settles into a cosier version of Cruella, who lacks bite.
I’m laying into this movie a fair bit, aren’t I? I’ll pull back a little, because despite the issues I had with Cruella, I did find many things to enjoy.
In terms of the set design and the costumes, this movie really hits the mark. Cruella gets to appear in some fabulous outfits, that bring the screen to life, and I imagine this will inspire many Halloween costumes this year.
The soundtrack is also good, and includes a mix of well-known pop songs which help to establish the era. Some of the tracks bolster the punk aesthetic that runs through this picture, and this helps to create the 1970s setting.
There are also plenty of gags in the movie. Not all of them land, but the humour is ever-present and this brings some fun, along with a wealth of quirky supporting characters.
Overall, Cruella has some good moments, and some even better ideas, but for me none of it comes together in the way I would have liked. It’s as if all the components are there, but they required a little more oomph to make them work, and perhaps a much tighter story.
Some audiences will enjoy this movie, some will be disappointed. I believe younger audiences will love Stone, but I expect their interest level will dip for large chunks of the picture.
That said, this is a 12A, so it is aiming for a teen audience and above. Although, I don’t know why it is a 12A, as this felt more like a PG to me.
Cruella is fine to watch, but is ultimately middle-of-the-road stuff. Stone and Thompson are excellent, but as for the rest, it is what it is – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
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