‘Cruella’ is an extremely odd movie. Taken on its own terms, it is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through the punk era fashion scene of 70s London, full of fabulous style, hilarious performances, and a great soundtrack. However, as a prequel to ‘101 Dalmatians’, what we are presented with here is the plucky origin story of a character who we all know will one day become a psychotic dog-skinning maniac. If you can get past this, it’s a really fun film.
It all begins with a rather silly prologue, introducing us to the strikingly two-tone haired Estella – a gifted child with a viciously cruel streak, which her mother refers to as Cruella. Without wanting to give away too much, certain events unfold which will have a lifelong psychological impact on the young Estella, and she finds herself living on the streets of London, where she befriends a pair of young grifters named Jasper and Horace.
Ten years later, and Estella (Emma Stone), Jasper (Joel Fry), and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) are making a living as thieves, but Estella still harbours ambitions of working in fashion. When an opportunity arises to work for the legendary haute couture designer Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), Estella grasps it. This gives the first half of the film a kind of Devil Wears of Prada feel, which isn’t quite what I expected, but is certainly entertaining.
You find yourself rooting for Estella, which as I noted at the top of the review, feels a bit weird when you know what she is going to become. Thankfully the film has a few twists and surprises up its exquisitely tailored sleeves, to ensure the dots (or should that be spots?) are joined, and the charmingly punky Estella finds herself on the path to Cruella de Vil.
I had a blast with ‘Cruella’. Director Craig Gillespie takes the vampish style and punk attitude he brought to ‘I, Tonya’ and ramps it up a few notches. The film is a visual feast of costume and production design excess, with a blistering soundtrack—that must have cost half the budget in licensing fees—and two absolutely irresistible central performances from Stone and Thompson.
The supporting cast runs very deep in this film, and nearly everyone who turns up delivers the goods. Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser only enhance their scene-stealing reputations as criminal sidekick duo Jasper and Horace. There’s also a lot of regulars from British TV comedy, such as Jamie Demetriou, Andrew Leung, and Kayvan Novak, who are all hilarious. Leung in particular, as the Baroness’ prissy and frequently appalled assistant is a delight. Expect to see him featuring in many reaction gifs in the very near future.
But of course, the star attraction of ‘Cruella’ is the double-bill headlining act of Emma Stone and Emma Thompson. Two actresses just having an absolute ball, especially Thompson, who appears to be channeling Joan Crawford and Liz Taylor, but with a nonchalantly evil energy for her delightfully vicious turn as the Baroness. Stone has the much more nuanced and challenging job of making Estella someone we care about, but without ever going so far as to let us forget how wicked and cruel she is capable of being.
The blu-ray comes with a wealth of bonus features, although it’s really just one long behind the scenes programme split into six featurettes. First up is the ‘The Two Emmas’, which as you might guess focuses on the two fabulous main actors, with interviews with all the key cast and crew. Joel Fry and Paul Water Hauser take centre stage in ‘The Sidekick Angle’, a short clip about Cruella’s comedy sidekicks. Key take-away from this is that Hauser found his accent by doing an impression of Bob Hoskins in ‘Hook’.
In ‘Cruella Couture’ the legendary costume designer Jenny Beavan talks us through the wild wardrobe she created for the film. Expect to see her up for her eleventh Oscar nomination come early next year. ‘The World of Cruella’ turns the attention to the remarkable production design and location work that went into creating the look for the film. The level of detail, down to things that never even appeared on the screen, is quite incredible.
‘New Dogs Old Tricks’ is a fun little clip about the canine performer in the film. ‘Cruella 101’ looks at the connections between the animated ‘101 Dalmatians’ and the little hidden details and easter eggs in this film. Somewhat bizarrely, there is no mention of the live action Disney version with Glenn Close. The disc rounds off with two minutes of not very funny bloopers, and a couple of deleted scenes.
Cast: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Mark Strong, Kirby Howell-Baptiste Director: Craig Gillespie Writer: Dana Fox & Tony McNamara Released By: Walt Disney Pictures Certificate: 12 Duration: 134 mins Release Date: 16th August 2021