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Emma Stone in Cruella.
Emma Stone in Cruella.
Photo: Disney




Now showing in cinemas


4/5 Stars


Set in 1970s London amid the punk rock revolution, Cruella follows a young grifter named Estella, a clever and creative girl determined to make a name for herself with her designs. She befriends a pair of young thieves who appreciate her appetite for mischief, and together they can build a life for themselves on the London streets. One day, Estella's flair for fashion catches the eye of Baroness von Hellman, a fashion legend who is devastatingly chic and terrifyingly haute. But their relationship sets in motion a course of events and revelations that will cause Estella to embrace her wicked side and become the raucous, fashionable and revenge-bent Cruella.


Genius or madness? These two words often straddle a blurred line. Sprinkle in some narcissism, and you'll be well on your way to evil genius. Growing up, Cruella De Vil was probably one of Disney's scariest villains, willing to do anything in the pursuit of fashion and art and terrifying many a dog-loving child. Nowhere near being an anti-hero, she's one you love to hate, and I definitely had no interest in her having any redeemable qualities in Disney's retelling of her origin story.

Luckily, they delivered - and they did it with exuberance.

Set in 70s London as the punk movement starts to take off, we meet a young Cruella (Emma Stone) - or at this time Estella - with dreams of becoming a fashion designer. She has to learn to survive in the cut-throat world of the Baroness (Emma Thompson) - a fashion icon that will do anything to stay on top.

Dazzling and wicked, Cruella is probably the best remake to have been churned out by the Mickey Mouse machine, barring perhaps Jungle Book. While she might not have been quite as psychotic and evil as I would have liked her to be, the young Cruella is still just mad and scheming enough to make you believe that she could perhaps one day want to skin puppies. It constantly simmered around the PG-rating, and sometimes you do wish Disney could have pushed it just far enough to genuinely bring the chaos to even greater heights. Despite the lack of blood, there's still enough malice and death to label it as deviant fun that the adults can enjoy. This movie is not made for kids.

Two things make this movie work well - the superbly selected cast and the ridiculous, drop-dead gorgeous costume design. As the Baroness, Thompson stole the show and the season with her performance, every movement calculated and serving face in every moment. She can go head-to-head with Miranda Priestly from Devil Wears Prada, leaving a trail of literal bodies in her wake. Her brilliance shines in the small details, like throwing rubbish out the window of her car, the way she says 'speak' while taking a power nap with cucumbers on her eyes and the visible restraint in her face when she clearly wants to murder everyone in the room. Absolute icon and the best mentor Cruella could have hoped for.

While Thompson did steal the limelight from Stone a bit, the lead still gave a dazzling performance, wearing her insane outfits with that famous punk rock attitude of the time. The costume design was so extravagant that the star could have easily gotten lost in them but luckily dug deep for that unhinged confidence that helped her excel. My only critique would be that the switch between zero and a hundred was too sudden - there was no gradual transition from Estella to Cruella and, at times, felt too abrupt. Time was definitely not the issue - as the film has an overly long runtime of over two hours - and was instead an acting or director issue than a writing issue.

Another two stand-outs were Jasper and Horace - Cruella's 'imbecilic' henchmen - played by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser. Translating their animated slapstick to live-action could have easily turned out terribly, but they stood their own as petty thieves who would do anything for Cruella. Hauser showed a flair for comedic timing and genuinely heartwarming affection for his character's true love - a puny one-eyed dog ironically called Wink. Their relationship with and loyalty to Cruella is quite interesting, and it weirdly makes sense how they would transition from family to henchmen.

And then there was the costume design - I will dream about it all for weeks to come. Born from the brilliant and Oscar-winning mind of Jenny Beavan (Mad Max: Fury Road, A Room with a View, Sense and Sensibility), this collection of chic and punk showstoppers almost overshadowed even Thompson. The screen was dripping with elegance, and I've never been so jealous of anyone's wardrobe in my life, and should easily secure another Oscar for the genius designer.

Not everything sparkles, however. There are some plotholes that only really become apparent when you think about it too hard afterwards, and I'd also advise skipping the unnecessarily stupid post-credit scene that kind of sours the end a bit. I also wished they explored her love for fur more to link up to the 101 Dalmations storyline. Still, it delivered one spectacular show, grand enough to make you overlook its flaws. Unlike other Disney live-action films, this story had one advantage - Cruella was already brought to life twice before in the iconic performance of Glenn Close, who also came on as executive producer for the new one. There's a clear spiritual link between them, framing Cruella as a prequel to Close's versions and also providing a handy blueprint for Stone's rendition of the villain.

Cruella is more than just another cash grab - dedication and zeal went into crafting a thrilling jaunt through the madness of creativity and revenge. It is one of Disney's best non-animated outputs in a long while and hopefully signals a turn for the better in the live-action slate yet to come.


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