When I first heard a Cruella origin story was in the pipeline, I was admittedly intrigued. “You think you can make me ‘understand’ an evil puppy killer, Disney?” I declared to anyone who would listen – which was no-one – “Goodluck!” So has Disney succeeded at humanising one of the most unforgivable Disney villains? Has this flick done for Cruella de Vil what WICKED the musical did for The Wicked Witch of the West? (Try watching THE WIZARD OF OZ after seeing that musical – it’s a conflicting experience!) Let’s see shall we?
Set in London in the 1970s, we see how the brilliant-but-sassy kiddy Cruella (then named Estella) finds herself an orphaned grifter with a passion for fashion. With some creative assistance from her loveable thief friends, Horace & Jasper (adorably portrayed by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser) and their unbelievably well-trained pooches Winky & Buddy (cue some unnecessary CGI), the ambitious Estella (Emma Stone) lands a dream job working for the unforgiving Queen of fashion “The Baroness” (played by a deliciously wicked Emma Thompson). When the truth of her past comes to light, Estella surrenders to her inner Cruella, creating a persona that will enable her to take on – and take down – the equally evil Baroness.
It’s undeniable; CRUELLA is riddled with character limitations. Our two leading ladies are the biggest, most selfish b**ches on the planet, and all those around them are basically enablers. But Director Craig Gillespie and writers Dana Fox and Tony McNamara have worked hard to nudge them in to the Joker-esque “fun and likeable villain zone”. The wealth of experience Emma Thompson brings to the table makes it an easy task for her; The Baroness steals the show, positively oozing a delicious wickedness. Emma Stone has her work cut out for her to keep up. Stone certainly puts in the effort, acting her heart out for Curella to compete. However, she’s not quite as natural in her ability to pull off what is ultimately a ridiculous caricature.
The killer soundtrack and fantastically pacey editing help bump up the tongue in cheek flavour of the film – which is the only way they can get away with what is, in essence, quite a dark story. They even try the old sneaky Disney trick of adding cute pet pals that trail after our “hero” try to manipulate us further to like her (interesting when we know Cruella’s puppy-skinning future). It’s quite a “kiddy” element to add to a story punctuated by wilful murders… cute, but a little at odds with the feel of the film.
It’s clear Disney have spared no expense and clearly assembled a formidable creative team. This is one slick flick; it looks sensational and is impressively well made. It’s wicked and fun though the subject matter makes it a difficult film to classify. It’s PG – but you wouldn’t take your young kids. The target audience is little hazy…. emo tweens? Angsty Teenagers? I’m not sure who it’s “meant for” but, despite it’s limitations and confusion, there will be people out there that love it. As I did.
CRUELLA: The characters are flawed and the target audience unclear, but the filmmaking is quality. I rate it 8 stars.