James Jay Edwards

Cruella Re-Invents an Iconic Disney Villain

(Cruella, courtesy Walt Disney Motion Picture Studios)

James Jay Edwards reviews Cruella, a live-action adaptation film in the 101 Dalmations franchise and centered around the character Cruella de Vil. (Walt Disney Pictures

 

The live-action Disney movie onslaught continues. But with Cruella, audiences get something a bit different. We get an origin story for one of Disney’s most iconic villains.

Cruella is about a young Cruella de Vil, beginning back when she was called Estella (and portrayed by La La Land’s Emma Stone). Estella loses her mother at a young age and winds up living the life of a petty criminal on the streets, but she really dreams of becoming a fashion designer. When she is given an opportunity to live out her dreams and create clothing for a fashionista known as The Baroness (Emma Thompson from Love Actually), she jumps at it.

 

(Cruella, theatrical release poster, courtesy Walt Disney Motion Picture Studios)

Going legit isn’t quite as easy for Estella as she thought it would be, though. After getting a taste of the backstabbing and bigotry of the business, Estella decides to do a little backstabbing of her own. By day, she continues to work for The Baroness, but by night, as Cruella, she outshines her, creating bigger and bolder fashions. She soon learns that The Baroness is not a woman that should be crossed.

Cruella was directed by Craig Gillespie, who has helmed everything from the horror remake Fright Night to the Tonya Harding biopic I, Tonya. As one might expect, there are a ton of writers credited on Cruella. Dana Fox (What Happens in Vegas) and Tony McNamara (The Favourite) did the screenplay, while the story was written by Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada), Kelly Marcel (Venom), and Steve Zissis (Togetherness). And, of course, Dodie Smith gets a credit for writing the novel upon which the character was based, The Hundred and One Dalmatians. For all the cooks in the kitchen, Cruella has a fairly focused and concise storyline. It’s economical. Almost too economical.

 

(Cruella, courtesy Walt Disney Motion Picture Studios)

Believe it or not, Cruella is the heroine of the movie. Or, at least, Estella is. The Baroness is a much worse villain than Cruella is at this point, and while Cruella does prove herself a formidable opponent, her boss is a more powerful figure. We all know Cruella’s villainy is yet to come, but, at this juncture in her life, she’s (at least somewhat) likeable and sympathetic. And while that’s not exactly a big problem, it would have been nice to see her boil over a bit instead of just simmer on low.

Now, that’s not saying that Cruella isn’t fun to watch. The movie has a ton a style and flair, with eye-popping visuals and suitably over-the-top performances from both Stone and Thompson. The real selling point, however—what really puts Cruella over the top—is the music. Every scene has a genius needle drop, and each one is better than the one before. Artists like The Rolling Stones, The Zombies, Blondie, and The Clash (among many, many more) all chime in, and each tune works with its scene to propel the story along. It sounds weird to say it, but the unsung hero of Cruella is probably music supervisor Susan Jacobs (who also helped with the brilliant needle drops in movies like Promising Young Woman and American Hustle).

 

(Cruella, courtesy Walt Disney Motion Picture Studios)

As far as live-action Disney movies go, Cruella is one of the strongest. This is probably due to the fact that it’s not a straight-up remake of a dearly beloved story. But it’s also because of its twisting-and-turning plot and its magnetic performances. A lot of stink has been made about whether or not Emma Stone could fill the shoes of Glenn Close, who played Cruella in the live action 101 Dalmations (and its sequel, 102 Dalmations). Well, Stone holds her own. And Close even seems to sign off on it with an Executive Producer credit on Cruella. So, she seems fine with it. And audiences should be, too.

 

 

Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.

 

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