Cruella De Vil, the iconic character from the classic 1961 Disney movie (based off the 1956 book by Dodie Smith of the same name), is the latest villain to receive the origin story treatment. For Disney, the recent trend of rebooting or retelling some of their classics has been met with mixed responses, but much box office success. Everything from Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella to the more recent Dumbo and The Lion King has been dug up from the Disney vault and redone. In some of these cases, we get twists on the story, some a verbatim copy and paste (looking at you, Lion King.)
Additionally, Disney has also given some of its most popular villains origin stories. Namely, Maleficent got two solo films in which the iconic character from Sleeping Beauty was given a rewrite. Now, it is Ms. De Vil herself getting a new origin story.
This isn't the first time the character has been portrayed in the flesh. Glenn Close played the character marvelously in the remake 101 Dalmatians in 1996 and its sequel 102 Dalmatians in 2000. This time, its Emma Stone portraying the infamous, Dalmatian-crazed villain.
What immediately separates Cruella from any other Disney origin story thus far is how dark the film dares to go. Director Craig Gillespie doesn't shy away from how brutal Cruella's beginnings really are. Perhaps the biggest difference between this film and the others in the recent line of retellings is that Cruella dares to be its own film, and a brilliant one at that.
Firstly, Emma Stone is phenomenal in the title character role. Stone has demonstrated over the years she truly is a gifted young actress, doing everything from a teen comedy with Easy A, to stylish period pieces in The Favourite, and of course her Oscar winning performance in the musical La La Land. Here, Stone masterfully plays the iconic villain. Stone makes her sympathetic, yet scary and devilish. She never attempts to emulate the animated character, nor Close's portrayal, but instead creates a new Cruella that is recognizable but still her own character. She's absolutely brilliant as Cruella, creating an iconic version of the already iconic character.
The rest of the cast is also brilliant. The other standout is the great Emma Thompson as a new character, The Baroness, an utterly ruthless fashion designer who isn't afraid to play dirty to maintain her fashion empire. Thompson is chill inducing and yet hilarious with her portrayal. Her comedic timing is something to marvel at, and she balances her evil character with grand sensation and humor, making her a treat to watch.
Another standout from the film is the fashion. In a film that advertises a showdown between two titans of fashion, it delivers a knockout. The stark differences between Stone and Thompson's characters works well, shown through their contrast in color, texture, and style. Cruella in particular has some of the best costumes in any film this century, demonstrating everything from the punk movement to elegance with a dash of edge. It's perhaps a bit early, but costume designer Jenny Beavan should prepare an Academy Award speech, just in case.
The story itself is actually completely different from what Disney has attempted before. Where Maleficent still featured the story of Sleeping Beauty, Cruella is its own entity. We see her young and tragic childhood, her early signs of ambition and slight madness and eventually, her rise to fame. What is most exciting about Cruella is the risks it takes. Anytime a beloved character is re-examined, there is always cause for concern. This film, however, doesn't ask you to reevaluate the original film, but rather breathes new life into a character. It has edge, camp, and glamour--everything a film about this character should have.
Cruella is also a straight up great time. The film delivers several exciting moments, some that make you laugh out loud, others that make you gasp in shock.
For anyone wondering, NO, Cruella does not harm any dogs in the film. There is an interesting twist on the classic tale, and no Dalmatians are made into a coat.
Overall, Cruella stands above the other Disney retellings. Its dark and bold, and that is exactly what these retellings should be. Emma Stone continues to prove she's one of the finest young actresses working today, and Emma Thompson gives one of the best villain performances in the last decade. The fashion is stunning, the dogs are adorable, and the story is wildly vibrant and original. It's classic movie fun, and it shouldn't be overlooked.
(One small note: Cruella is playing both in theaters and on Disney+ for an additional $30. If theaters are open where you are, see this film in a theater. The experience of watching this on the big screen is one of my favorite memories of 2021 thus far, and I think the film deserves to be seen on the big screen.)