'Cruella' (2021) Review: Emma vs Emma
Of all the Disney villains in history, there are none quite so devious as Cruella De Vil. Royal traitors like Jafar and Scar take the prize for most ambitious, but there’s a particular black heartedness to planning the murder of a hundred adorable puppies simply for something nice to wear. A coat which, by all accounts, Cruella would have likely forgotten about or thrown out the moment she was tired of it.
There’s no sin more original than that, so it’s easy to understand why you’d want to make a movie about that person. Why ‘Cruella’ decides to tell the story about such a villain with a sympathetic view? Your guess is as good as mine. Still, that’s the tale that is told in the live action ‘Cruella’ in which Emma Stone plays a relatable young fashion designer with a bit of a mean streak.
Early in the movie Cruella’s life as a young girl named Estella, shows that mean streak in its infancy. She’s hot tempered and will get herself into trouble as naturally as a dalmatian wears its spots. Rarely though is her bad action unfounded. Her methods are extreme but the film always roots her reaction in empathy. Cruella is a protagonist you can easily get behind, especially given her storied past.
Soon after, Estella becomes Cruella proper, and unfolds the mystery of her past, while making an explosive entry into the London fashion scene. Standing in her way is Emma Thompson’s The Baroness. Whereas the Cruella we all know and love would announce her presence by storming into a room and shouting at the top of her lungs, the Baroness has a much more somber approach, while being just as soul crushing. Think Miranda Priestly meets Nurse Ratched, and throw in a british accent for good measure. It’s a combination that’s riveting to watch, especially when the two Emmas go head to head. Not to mention their punk rock accompaniment, as the film puts its 1970s setting to good use with an fun and energetic soundtrack.
Their battle of wits plays out with some delicious verbal sparring, and their performances deserve acclaim. Still, the real heavy hitter in this film is Academy Award winning costume designer Jenny Beavan, whose previous work includes ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. The sheer volume of outfits worn by Stone and the rest of the cast, is matched only by the level of detail on each. The designs are the subject of some of the films most iconic shots, like when Cruella is carried off by a garbage truck and the 40 foot train of her dress, made entirely out of discarded clothing, follows behind her.
Visually, ‘Cruella’ is striking and impressive. It helps to keep you engaged with the film, especially when its more distracting elements emerge. The film’s cg visual effects are perhaps the most egregious. Cruella has two canine companions that are unfortunately not as polished as the rest of the film and stand out in the worst way. For a film series that owes its entire existence to dogs, you’d think they would at least do them justice on the big screen.
Even at it’s worst, ‘Cruella’ manages to sweep you off your feet with style. So much so that I was willing to forgive it for its admittedly minor offences. Emma Stone’s Cruella does not feel like the iconic original, but she carves out an identity of her own all the same. Then again, breaking the rules and bucking expectations for the sake of it, is about as Cruella as you can get.
Rating: Big Screen Watch