By Julien Rodger
Rather than another live action adaptation of 101 Dalmations, Cruella’s villain origin story helps keep things fresh with a story we haven’t seen before. Cruella is humanized as a fashion loving orphan who blames herself for her mother’s death before growing up alongside pickpocket friends. The film’s early stages heavily uses hit songs from the 60s and 70s in a somewhat cliche but enjoyable way for films set in the time period. Even while she’s in Estella, not Cruella form, Emma Stone shows her character’s excitable love towards all things fashion.
Soon she becomes employed by Emma Thompson’s Baroness fashion designer character, who originally feels like a Miranda Priestly clone but the more deranged and egotistical a villain she’s revealed as the more it stands out on its own. Stone gets to chew up the screen equally when as Cruella she commits to upstaging her at every opportunity. From a fashion perspective the film is one for the ages with an endless series of eye popping outfits between the two.
Midway through the film Cruella falls too far down the rabbit hole and starts being a jerk to her friends seemingly overnight. It feels too fast even after learning a key piece of information about the Baroness’ villainy, plus it makes it harder to root for her. Nevertheless as one would expect with the optimism of Disney it’s all a precursor to her learning the err of her ways and becoming a hybrid of her old and new self. In addition later on a twist reveals she had madness blood in her all along explaining how she lost it for a brief time.
Paul Walter Hauser, an alumni from Craig Gillespie’s last film I, Tonya is used for comedy relief, while Cruella’s other friend Joel Fry along with Kayven Novak’s klutz lawyer both seem like potential romantic interests for Cruella, but at already over 2 hours the film never has time to pursue it in this one. Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Cruella’s childhood friend and journalist is underused, perhaps the plan is to give her character a bigger role in the the sequel.
The film’s running time can be wearing by the end with the amount of energy, histrionics and twists, but bringing Stone and Thompson back on screen together by the climax makes it work with how hard it is to get tired of them together. Cruella and the Baroness have a delightful mix of ego, madness and fashion talent and the two actresses appear to be having the time of their life eating up the screen and getting to wear all those outfits.
3.5 stars out of 5