Film & TV

The Emmas are Devilishly Good in the Enjoyable ‘Cruella’

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Director: Craig Gillespie
Date: May 28, 2021

PG-13 | 2 hour 14 minutes

Cruella de Vil is one of Disney’s most beloved and deplorable villains — after all, she does kidnap dogs. It was only a matter of time before the studio would want a live-action iteration of the notorious heiress to join their growing catalog of remakes. 

While those movies have largely been lifeless, “Cruella” is an ode to its protagonist — stylish, messy and ambitious — highlighted by its fabulous leads: Emma Stone and Emma Thompson.

Estella (Stone) is a feisty, young girl in 1970s London who’s determined to become a top fashion designer. She befriends two small-time crooks, Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), and the trio make ends meet by conning people. One day, Estella’s radical fashion sense catches the eye of legendary designer Baroness von Hellmen (Emma Thompson), who hires her immediately.

However, what seems like the beginning of a mentorship quickly turns into rivalry. Estella realizes there’s only room for one fashion designer in London and has to embrace her erratic and revenge-bent alter ego — aptly named Cruella — to get rid of the Baroness. 

Director Craig Gillespie (“I, Tonya,” “Lars and the Real Girl”) injects this movie with spunky energy and gives it a personal flair that isn’t found in the other Disney live-action remakes. He’s given a blank slate to make something fun and unique and doesn’t disappoint — especially in the technical departments. 

The costumes are exquisite, the production design is impeccable and the soundtrack is perfect for the punk rock vibe the movie is going for. Gillespie’s hyperstylization is visually appealing and will make it impossible for viewers to take their eyes off the screen. With this movie and “I, Tonya,” he’s one of the best directors of villain origin stories Hollywood has to offer. 

Gillespie’s direction also masks the inconsistent characterization of Cruella. The writers aren’t able to decide if they want Cruella to be a villain or an antihero, opting for something in the middle. She does some awful things, but is always redeemed in some way. 

This feels like a tactic by Disney to make their dog-hating villainess more palatable for younger viewers. Cruella isn’t someone who needs to be sympathized with — she should be loathed.

In the end, this is the Emma show all the way. Both Stone and Thompson are perfectly cast in two over-the-top roles. Stone (“La La Land,” “The Favourite”) gives the best Cruella performance to date, topping an iconic Glenn Close — who also serves as executive producer — in “101 Dalmatians.” She chews up the scenery with her stunning acting. In a soliloquy, Stone is able to go from mournful to devious in an instant, encompassing the whole character in that one scene. 

Thompson (“Love Actually,” “Sense and Sensibility”) has as much fun as Stone, playing a great foil. The Baroness herself is a one-note villain, but Thompson’s performance gives her personality and depth. Aside from the leading women, Fry (“Yesterday,” “Love, Wedding, Repeat”) and Hauser (“BlacKkKlansman,” “Richard Jewell”) provide comic relief throughout the movie with some hilarious lines. 

The back-and-forths between Stone and Thompson are the best parts of the movie and the two actresses play incredibly well off each other. The line delivery is dramatic and kitschy — appropriate for the gaudy world Gillespie has created. 

At 134 minutes, the movie drags on too long, notably in the climax. The third act features bad CGI — surprising, given all the other technical departments are tremendous — and is predictable. There aren’t many twists in the movie and Gillespie tests the audience’s patience by taking his time to get to the ending. 

Stone sells the ending winning over the audience and hinting at a possible sequel — hopefully one that lets Cruella be an outright villain. 

Even though the list isn’t long, this movie is the best live-action remake Disney has made. It’s vibrant, eclectic and wickedly entertaining. A few rough edges prevent the film from being truly great, but the Emmas are worth the price of admission (or Premier Access fee on Disney+). 

“Cruella,” rated PG-13, is now playing in theaters and streaming on Disney+.

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