Disney’s Cruella, the much-anticipated prequel to 101 Dalmatians, sees Emma Stone play the infamous villain as a young, troubled girl. Set in 1970s punk London, director Craig Gillespie’s vision is fun, dark and utterly glamorous.
Our titular protagonist, born Estella, is marginalised from a very young age due to her peculiarities, and is still a child when she ends up alone in the Big Smoke. She hooks up with two pickpockets her own age, while obsessively dreaming of becoming a fashion designer. When she meets the ultra-chic and terrifying Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), she can finally make her creative dreams come true – but the encounter turns her life upside down.
It’s impossible not to liken the film to The Devil Wears Prada, but this origin story is Disneyfied and turned into a visually enchanting fairytale. It takes a while for the movie to pick up pace and show that it is not merely a far-fetched narrative that reads like glamourised fan fiction. Eventually, the fabulous aesthetics and the two leading ladies win the audience over, and the plot catches up and comes together in a convincing enough way.
Although Cruella de Vil is an iconic villain, her background is relatively obscure, and Gillespie uses this fact to his advantage. The director wanted Stone to create the character from scratch, and so he purposefully moved away from Glenn Close’s 1996 interpretation and took liberties in imagining her past. This approach gives the feature a fresh feel and turns it into something brand new. In fact, the link to the original baddie is so feeble that it raises questions as to why the film needed to be about this specific figure, and not an original character.
Of course, Cruella’s name does attract attention and lends itself to flamboyant stylistic choices (an opportunity fully exploited by cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis). Moreover, movies with antagonists as protagonists, exploring the traumas and dark pasts of the villain, are an increasingly popular trend. Stone’s iteration, however, cannot be described as evil and is fortunately missing her propensity for animal cruelty. She is eccentric and selfish at most, and does not actually evolve into the sinister lady who wanted nothing more than a Dalmatian coat.
Still, Cruella wins full points for artistic design, soundtrack and costumes. It’s a must-watch for fashion fans (designer Jenny Beavan prepared 47 costume changes for Stone and 33 for Thompson), and in spite of its long running time of two and a quarter hours, it is a thoroughly entertaining adventure.
Cruella is released nationwide and on Disney+ on 28th May 2021.
Watch the trailer for Cruella here: