MOVIE REVIEW: CRUELLA (2021) Disney strikes gold in this reimagining of 101 Dalmations’ fiendish femme fatale.


Cruella is a bit of wicked comic book fun for Disney fans with great performances and production, even if the story leans on the predictable side.

The past decade has seen Disney lean heavily into creating live-action adaptations of many of its classic animated features. From Beauty and The Beast to The Jungle Book, Aladdin, and even Dumbo, these live-action features have proven popular amongst fans and have introduced a new generation of fans to some of Disney’s most classic characters in an all-new way. But way back in 1996, one of the first live-action adaptations of a classic Disney animated film they produced was 101 Dalmations, starring Glenn Close as the film’s nefarious dog-snatching villain Cruella DeVille. 101 Dalmations proved to be an extremely popular film with Close’s DeVille serving as the film’s breakout character, leading towards a more Cruella-centric sequel in 2000, Disney’s 102 Dalmations. The concept of a fashion-forward bad girl as a villain is a concept that still resonates in the now, with characters like DC Comics’ Harley Quinn drawing a fanbase off that kind of off-kilter villain personality. The massive popularity of films like Disney’s Descendants, which follows the teen children of villains like Cruella DeVille, Jafar, and the Evil Queen all seemed to play a part in the production green light for Craig Gillespie’s Cruella, opening in theaters this Memorial Day weekend.

Cruella follows the early life of Estella, the girl who would be Cruella, now reimagined as an Edward Scissorhands-ish misfit raised by a kindly maid named Catherine (Emily Beecham), who wants only the best for young Estella. Circumstances arise where Estella loses her mother and winds up on the streets where she makes the acquaintance of two other homeless children who steal to survive. Time goes by and the duo of Horace (I, Tonya’s Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (In The Earth’s Joel Fry) conspire with a now 20-something Estella (Emma Stone) to commit jewel heists and grifts in 1970’s London. But Emma, always a fashion-conscious child, harbors the dreams of making it as a fashion designer as an adult; using her share of grifts to pursue her dreams of designing beautiful clothes and making her dreams come true. Through the action of her friend Jasper, Estella lands an entry-level job at a department store outlet for Baroness Couture, London’s premiere label run by Estella’s idol, The Baroness (Emma Thompson). One day, Estella captures the Baroness’ eyes and it seems her dreams are on their way to becoming reality. But a rude awakening serves to show Estella that she must evolve to truly become the designer of her dreams. She must let go of her past as Estell and become a punk rock dynamo of crazy and couture. She must become … Cruella.

Emma Stone sinks her teeth into the role of Cruella, a 70’s punk rock fusion of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, by way of Vivienne Westwood and Siouxsie Sioux in style and power. She chews the scenery in this film with aplomb, making sure that you the audience know that she is owning this role from start to finish, from her dozens of outfit changes to the delivery of every one of her lines with her raspy, rolling faux-English accent. Stone is the reason to watch this movie. Much the way Margot Robbie made the role of Harley Quinn hers in Suicide Squad and its subsequent spinoffs, Stone lends that kind of cool bad girl energy to Cruella, who I imagine we’ll be reappraising as a better bad girl role model soon after this film release. The film’s costume and production design is head over heels incredible; especially as Cruella and The Baroness begin to dual over who is the future of London fashion to come in a series of over-the-top costume “battles” and entrances. Emma Thompson also shines as a worthy on-screen foil for Cruella, as a sort of evil Anna Wintour, a villainous businesswoman who’ll do whatever it takes to come out on top. The film’s score also hits the right notes with classic 70’s rock hits one after another painting the canvas of Cruella’s world. Gillepsie is certainly having fun directing this film, and the film’s cinematography certainly speaks to that as its captures your attention throughout its 2 hours and 14-minute runtime. The film’s supporting cast, including Mark Strong as The Baroness’ valet, and John McCrea as Cruella’s right-hand partner-in-design Artie, are all wonderful, really making the film an immersive whole.

The only area you could ding Cruella is in terms of its story structure. The film is very predictable and its always a bit annoying when characters on-screen are barely putting together things the audience did much earlier on. The film’s DNA is also very beholden to Tim Burton’s films, mainly the original Batman and Batman Returns, two films which Cruella seems to at times just remix scenes from the origins of The Penguin and Catwoman respectively, with Thompson’s Baroness often coming off as a remix of Christopher Walken’s evil department store owner Max Shreck by way of The Devil Wears Prada. The film also uses a track from Joker that was likely used as a bit of temp music in its assembly cut that made its way to the final cut but just seems to draw the comparison further. Cruella is a much more entertaining and fun film than Joker, but I don’t doubt that the success of Joker played a strong hand in greenlighting a standalone Disney villain film for a character like Cruella.

That being said, Cruella is a great film to see with friends or as part of a communal theater experience with other Disney fans. There are tons of great Easter Eggs for fans of 101 Dalmations, including a great mid-credits scene. Emma Stone makes the role of Cruella hers and I wouldn’t be shocked if this film becomes a 2021 favorite, due not only just to its great production and costume design, but its great performances and directorial flair. Cruella is a lot of fiendish fun for the whole family.