Cruella (AU - PG/UK - 12A/US - PG-13)

In a Word: Stylish

Cruella

Emma Stone stars as Cruella de Vil in Disney's Cruella. PICTURE: Courtesy of Disney. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. 

After the success of Maleficent and Frozen, Disney have discovered a new formula - the sympathetic makeover of former villains. Their latest target for rehabilitation is the diabolical dame from 101 Dalmatians, Cruella de Vil (played here by Emma Stone).

This reimagining of the iconic villain begins with the young Estella Miller who is bullied, orphaned and lost in the big city. From there she meets her partners in crime, Jasper and Horace, and they grow up to become grifters and thieves on the streets of London. Estella’s transformation into Cruella begins when she learns the truth about the Baroness (Emma Thompson) who murdered her mother. The darker side of Estella takes over as she embraces her alternate persona, Cruella, who has the cunning and ingenuity to bring the true villain down.

"The story combines elements of a rags-to-riches story, a heist film and even superhero tropes in a compelling blend."

The story combines elements of a rags-to-riches story, a heist film and even superhero tropes in a compelling blend. The rags-to-riches arc follows a poor orphan girl, living on the streets, who rises to become a star in the fashion world. The heist plots are woven throughout the story as Cruella and her gang plan elaborate crimes filled with misdirection and twists akin to an Ocean’s 11 film. The superhero trope of the innocent alter-ego, Estella, concealing the mad genius of Cruella also adds an enjoyable dynamic.

Both Emma Stone and Emma Thompson are delightful as they embrace the villainous nature of the characters. Thompson portrays the Baroness with unabashed narcissism and ruthlessness. Emma Stone walks a thin line between villainy, madness and underdog hero. This prequel to the animated classic completely reinvents the character as one that is brilliant, sympathetic and somewhat crazy.

Initially, Cruella seemed like a strange choice to be given a blockbuster prequel. However director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl and I, Tonya) injects a mix of stylish costumes, cute canines, biting wit and colourful characters that work together to form a highly entertaining package.

The film is darker and more mature than most Disney fare. Themes of murder, revenge and the glorification of a life of crime may need some serious explaining to younger audiences. The story embraces these morally grey areas to show that not all villains can be painted a single colour. Cruella is part good, part evil, part hero and part villain. So, like the dalmatians she is known for, she is both speckled with a both a measure of black and white.

Cruella is screening in theatres and streaming on Disney+ premiere access.