Cruella – Film Review

Cruella de Vil may be a household name for many and was certainly a feature of many children’s nightmares following the 1960s Disney animation 101 Dalmations featuring her as the dalmatian hating but fashionable villain. But this is not that story. Perhaps her villainy was misunderstood as most animated villains are one dimensional and this is what the live action film Cruella aims to correct. Cruella provides that origin story for Cruella de Vil following her childhood and beginnings in 1970s London. The result is a film that is darker in tone to many Disney films with subtle hints at the psychological complexity of humans which are not always effective. Still, Cruella is a devilishly fun film which will appeal to adults and children alike with strong performances from Emma Stone and Emma Thompson as they are pitted against each other in the fashion stakes.

Stone plays the titular Cruella with aplomb adopting a British accent for this leading role to be portrayed as evil. However, the film delves into the notion of the alter ego and the recesses of the mind, as Cruella is also the unassuming Estella who is softly spoken, downtrodden and eager to please. Estella attempts to suppress Cruella and with a name with the prefix, ‘cruel’ this is widely considered to be an ideal move. The film glosses over any elements of mental illness but seems to suggest that a female villain must be unhinged as a rationale for her wickedness. In this way, parallels to Joker can be drawn particularly in the wearing of bright red, lipstick and donning a pale face for a cartoon-like alter ego after suffering trauma.

Emma Stone as Cruella in a fashion shop
Emma Stone as Cruella in a fashion shop

London during the punk revolution seems to be the perfect time period for Estella’s transition into Cruella. Many iconic looks were crafted during the 1970s punk movement and the fashion revolution was influenced by this. Estella’s passion is fashion as she wistfully looks at the iconic Liberty department store and it is this love of fashion that ensures that she crosses paths with the formidable fashion designer Baroness played with relish by Thompson. With nods to The Devil Wears Prada, Thompson’s Baroness is that demanding, under appreciative boss who dresses impeccably and has a nose for the latest trend.

The fashion elements are a key part of the film which fortunately detract from other questionable scenes. Cruella could indeed be a seasonal fashion show as there are stunning clothes on display but equally the film explores that process of creating ‘celebrities’ on the basis of the viral marketing that is commonplace for this Instagram generation and may therefore be an anachronism. These fashion based scenes are a delight to watch if only the film had decided to concentrate on those themes.

Emma Stone as Cruella
Emma Stone as Cruella

Thompson’s Baroness lives in a grand, imposing mansion with gothic architecture, just like an archetypal Disney castle. But, the occasional scenes of dramatic weather and hints at darker forces bears a resemblance to Maleficent at times with a similarly betrayed villain. In comparison,  Cruella is a more cohesive offering. But the film’s clumsy crafting of a human interest story, to elicit sympathy for Cruella, may not achieve the desired effect. This is especially the case as some scenes are too CGI reliant and therefore lack the emotional impact. Plus, the use of a voiceover, in this re-imagining of Cruella’s persona, is a blunt tool to guide the audience in its feelings towards Cruella. Stone does deliver impeccable comic timing but a continuous narration does feel superfluous.

Cruella offers an interesting insight into a character’s descent into cruelty, and possible madness, with some compelling set pieces akin to a music video. Some of the editing choices are questionable, as the film is quite long, but overall Cruella is an enjoyable, stylish experience with some stunning fashionable items to admire.

Cruella poster
Cruella poster

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