It’s certainly not without its flaws but Emma Stone’s performance as a classic Disney movie is brassy and bold.
There’s something so deliciously fun about villains.
We all love to love a villain. Villains get to be sassy, they get to be dismissive, and they get to push past the boundaries of polite society that we dare not ourselves. Plus, they always get the very best lines.
Who wouldn’t want to root for the villain? As long as they’re not actually skinning dalmatians, of course.
Starring Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, Cruella is supposed to be the wild, bold origin story of Cruella de Vil, of how a young, orphaned girl came to be a feared and malevolent force in the lives of kind-hearted pet owners.
And it almost was – it got so close. But it is way too long (134 minutes!) and indulges in two too many set-pieces, plus a lack of thematic cohesion means it’s only a so-so movie rather than a spectacular experience.
Cruella (Stone) was originally Estella, a naughty girl with a defiant streak against authority. Kicked out of school, her mum Catherine (Emily Beecham) decides to move them to London.
Obviously, it doesn’t go as planned and Estella ends up alone on the streets, where she meets Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser). By the time they’re young adults, the trio have become wily scammers and thieves, liberating wallets and valuable pieces from their former owners.
But Estella is harbouring a different ambition for her boundless creativity – to be a fabulous fashion designer like her idol, the Baroness (Emma Thompson).
When she goes to work for the extraordinarily self-centred Baroness, it starts Estella’s journey to becoming Cruella.
Obviously, many things happen for that transition to take place and yet despite the fact Cruella often feels like it’s never going to end, her character arc is also, ironically, rushed.
The film ambitiously tries to explore the duality inherent in a character who is a physical manifestation of light and dark. It’s trying to say something about nature versus nurture, good versus bad, but it’s clumsy, thin and confused, so it ends up not saying anything at all.
There’s connective tissue missing between the Estella and Cruella divide, which is surprising given Tony McNamara, who penned The Favourite and The Great, is a co-screenwriter here. But the script went through a few re-writes so perhaps that hodge-podge DNA remained.
And for all its curiosity about Cruella’s origin, it’s completely uninterested in the Baroness’s history, a character that was utterly delightful to watch in her monstrosity thanks to Thompson’s supercilious, sneering performance. But just because Thompson utters every syllable as if they’re dripping with contempt doesn’t mean the character is whole.
While Stone’s portrayal is dynamic and compelling, but it also feels at times as if director Craig Gillespie is trying to eke out the same spiky, over-the-top performance he extracted from Margot Robbie in his previous movie, I, Tonya. Stone, though, brings more nuance.
Gillespie also repeats many of the same heavy handed needle drops from I, Tonya, which wouldn’t matter if you didn’t know that’s what he was doing. But once you realise it, it’s hard to ignore.
But there are many parts about Cruella that impresses, particularly Jenny Beavan’s imaginative, eyepopping Vivienne Westwood-inspired costumes and the 1970s London punk aesthetic layered into every frame by production designer Fiona Crombie.
It always looks really arresting. Add that to the performances and Cruella is doing enough to be seductively fun and entertaining, at least for the first 90 minutes.
But ultimately, Cruella is as disjointed as its dramatic villain.
Cruella is in cinemas now and on Disney+’s Premier Access ($34.99)
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