‘Cruella’ Struggles To Overcome Glenn Close’s Shadow, But Is Entertaining Enough – Review
If you were looking for a film with amazing fashion, humour and some unexpected twists and turns along the way, then Cruella might be for you. With Emma Stone in the titular role and fellow Emma (Thompson) as the Miranda Priestly-esque Baroness Von Hellman, Cruella is made better by great performances by its cast, however, the origin story of one of Disney’s most-famed villains is a lot to be desired at times.
Before Cruella was Cruella, she was Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland). In her younger years, with her two-toned hair and eye for fashion, Estella never really fit in. However, this was just a mere bump in the road for the young girl who has her eyes set on something far greater for herself. Much like the animated and live-action counterpart many viewers are accustomed to, Estella is all about fashion and she will stop at nothing to make sure that her ambition in life is fulfilled.
Of course, much like many other things in life, this is much easier said than done. After getting expelled from her school for her attitude, fighting and other mishaps, her mother, Catherine (Emily Beecham), decides that a move to London is in order. However, the trip which was meant to lead them both to greener pastures is met with tragedy and Estella must find a way to cope with her guilt and survive in London. Thankfully, a chance meeting with two young pickpockets, Jasper (Ziggy Gardner) and Horace (Joseph MacDonald), takes Estella on a new journey with unexpected new friends. Flash forward about 10 years and the film is in the midst of the ‘70s punk rock movement in London and Estella is about to make a name for herself–complete with the name change that audiences will be expecting.
For those who might be thinking that Cruella would be similar to fellow Disney live-action villain film, Maleficent, well, you’d be both wrong and right. While it does similar things in terms of explaining the character’s origin story, Cruella takes its time to give audiences, well, Cruella. There is a lot of build-up to get to the titular character which is something that (thankfully) wasn’t part of the equation with Maleficent. For some viewers, this might not be a deal-breaker, but I would venture a guess that most people are watching this film in anticipation of the villainess with the obsession for fur and fashion. Although fashion plays an integral part in the movie, much of it is at the hands of Thompson’s Baroness and not really Cruella herself. The snippets we do get are sparse or happen quickly which takes away from Cruella’s character.
That being said, Emma Squared do a great job working off one another throughout the movie and provides much of its saving grace. Not only are Stone and Thompson fun to watch, but the supporting characters are just as tremendous. Adult Jasper and Horace are aptly played by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser, respectively. Very reminiscent of their counterparts in the animated 101 Dalmatians, Fry and Hauser play the part of Cruella’s partners-in-crime with ease and also provide some surprising foil to their fashion-forward friend. Another scene-stealer is Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Anita. A childhood friend of Cruella, Howell-Baptiste’s Anita plays an integral part in the rise of Cruella. Unfortunately, Howell-Baptiste’s Anita does fall victim to the Black friend trope. Of course, this doesn’t take away from Howell-Baptiste’s performance but perhaps the biggest letdown was the lack of screen time she rightfully deserved.
All-in-all, Cruella had some memorable moments, however, it continues the trend of Disney’s live-action movies not coming close to the magic that is captured in their animated counterparts–in this instance– even the 1996 live-action 101 Dalmatians (which starred Glenn Close as Cruella). In fact, in that movie, Cruella mentions “More good women have been lost to marriage than to war, famine, disease, and disaster.” In the case of Disney, more good films have been lost to these live-action adaptations and retellings. When they could just stick to more animated and original content. As Close’s Cruella also said, “You have talent, darling. Don’t squander it.”