28th May2021

‘Cruella’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Mark Strong | Written by Dana Fox, Tony McNamara | Directed by Craig Gillespie

The iconic villainess of Disney’s 101 Dalmatians receives the prequel treatment in this live-action origin story that stars Emmas Stone AND Thompson. Stylish, smartly written and superbly acted, it’s a huge amount of fun that practically begs for a sequel.

Directed by Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya), the film begins in 1960s London, where rebellious young Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) is orphaned in typically traumatic Disney fashion when her mother (Emily Beecham) is pushed off a cliff by three dalmatians. Left to fend for herself, Estella is taken under the wing of streetwise thieves Jasper and Horace (Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser, both excellent), and as she grows up (now played by Emma Stone), she designs elaborate disguises for their various small-time crimes.

Spotting Estella’s estimable costume designing ability, Jasper enrols her in an apprenticeship at Liberty’s department store, which is how she gets snapped up by imperious designer The Baroness (Emma Thompson), who towers over London’s fashion scene. However, when Estella makes a shocking discovery about The Baroness (clue: she owns three dalmatians), she vows revenge, and sets herself up as punk-ish fashion rival Cruella, upstaging The Baroness at every turn.

Stone and Thompson are both delightful, delivering delicious performances that will have you grinning from ear to ear. They’re clearly enjoying themselves enormously and that proves utterly irresistible, whether it’s Thompson’s wonderfully cutting line deliveries or Stone’s spirited physicality, which practically crackles with anarchic energy.

The clever script presents an inspired reinvention of Cruella as anti-hero, to the point where you can already imagine that the accompanying merchandising is going to be off the scale. The set-up is similar in concept to Todd Phillips’ Joker, but the execution is decidedly more light-hearted – tellingly, Cruella is nothing but nice to dalmatians in this movie, despite having an excellent reason to hate them.

Given that the story centres on the fashion rivalry (the de Vil Wears Prada joke has already been made countless times, so one more won’t hurt), it’s crucial that the film gets the fashion right. In fact, it goes above and beyond in that department, thanks to Jenny Beavan’s stunning costume creations and the inspired decision to have Cruella‘s career (and general style) deliberately echo that of Vivienne Westwood.

With that in mind, the set-pieces where Cruella upstages The Baroness are an absolute riot. The jaw-dropping highlight – unsurprisingly co-opted for the trailer – has Cruella setting fire to her gown at a strictly enforced black-and-white ball to reveal a stunning red gown underneath.

Gillespie’s pacey direction ensures the film moves at a decent clip throughout, which is just as well, given the 134 minute running time. Admittedly, there is the occasional stumble – a central heist sequence feels bloated and superfluous rather than snappily choreographed – but the film always recovers to deliver another great moment.

Alongside the stunning costume work and production design, Cruella is further heightened by a terrific soundtrack that’s bursting with classic hits – the sort of thing that will have you heading straight to Spotify afterwards. Yes, some of the tracks may be a little on the nose, but it’s hard to complain too much when they’re such great tunes.

In short, this is a hugely entertaining, brilliantly acted and frequently funny prequel that’s surprisingly dark in places, considering its target audience. Stick around for a cute and charming post-credits sting that paves the way for a potential follow-up film, should Cruella meet with the box-office success it clearly deserves.

**** 4/5

Cruella is in UK cinemas from today.


Comments are closed.