Disney’s Cruella official movie poster. PUBLIC DOMAIN
The most recent production from the Disney universe brings us “Cruella,” a villain origin story for the evil antagonist mostly known from the 1996 film “101 Dalmatians.” Before this year, Cruella de Vil was the shrill and notoriously wicked fashion lady who was hellbent on skinning little dalmatian puppies for her own fun. Directed by Craig Gillespie, “Cruella” is a fun and gratifying beginning to Disney’s exploration of its long-overlooked characters: the villains.
The film begins by introducing Estella, a brilliant young girl who cannot be contained. She wreaks havoc because her world is not ready for her creativity or spontaneity. Her tragic backstory begins early when she witnesses her mother fall off a cliff, and blames herself and some killer dalmatians. Like many rags to riches stories, she finds two young boys to begin a life of pick-pocketing with.
The story gains momentum the moment we meet the real movie villain: the Baroness, played by Emma Thompson, who first only seems like the usual cruel and omnipotent fashion empress — littering the street with an entire takeout box should have tipped us off of her evil nature.
Estella fully adopts her alter ego name Cruella when she begins to launch her own designs and wows London with fresh daring fashion ideas. After a montage of Estella working undercover to sabotage the Baroness while living to her creative potential through ingenious fashion shows and extravagant entrances, the truth of the original sin comes to light.
In true Disney fashion, the grand twist lies in that the mother Cruella mourns and blames the Baroness for her death, is not her mother. The cruel woman who will stop at nothing to squash Cruella is her birth mother and has no reservations in eliminating her after the truth comes to light, which is apparent after pushing her daughter off a cliff — at least she’s consistent.
The film ends with an emboldened Cruella, skunk-haired and ready to raise hell at her new inherited estate she dubs “Hell Hall.”
As a whole, it’s a great production from Disney, maybe even a little too mature for the likes of those under 13-years-old given the rating. We see a young Cruella drinking scotch, having her Joker moment with the monologue to her dead mother, and the word murder is thrown around five too many times.
But that’s the thing: “Cruella” is not for kids now — it’s not targeted for those excited about Frozen 3. It is for those who watched Cruella as the shrill old lady in 1996 who was looking to skin cute puppies. It gave a cool origin story to an otherwise misunderstood character who was not a villain, but someone looking to get wrongs righted. Critics may agree as the film has rated fresh on rotten tomatoes, with an overall great rating of 97% Audience Score.
That’s not to mention the fun of a punk, chic 1970s London setting paired with a great soundtrack. With tracks by Supertramp, The Rolling Stones, and Florence + The Machine, “Cruella” is aesthetically pleasing and fashionable to a fault.
Emma Stone, who portrays Cruella, was first considered an odd choice for such a malignant and notorious villain, having usually been marketed as the down-to-earth girl next door, in films like “La La Land,” “Easy A,” and “The Amazing Spiderman.”
Critics worried Stone would have big shoes to fill with the past performance by Glenn Close, who gave viewers the truly evil villain Cruella is. But, as Screen Rant also observes from this film, Stone gives a great multi-faceted approach, not of a stone-cold villain; but a genius and anti-hero in the making. The review says, “Stone is the absolute epicenter of Cruella, and she owns the role completely, immersing herself within the dual roles that flesh out the nuances of an emotionally driven backstory.”
With such great reception, it’s no wonder a sequel is rumored to be in the making.
The Disney production team has finally caught suit that all-powerful goody-two-shoes heroes are out, and somewhat redeemable (yet always likable) antiheroes and villains are in. Here’s looking at a sympathetic backstory to Captain Hook and a biopic of the Evil Queen — maybe she had a tragic childhood that led her to give that apple to Snow White.