Review: CRUELLA Delivers Stylish Character Study On Iconic Villain

Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA.

Disney’s Cruella showcases a devilishly good time filled with over-the-top antics and phenomenal performances by its two leads. Admittedly, the film didn’t seem like it would offer much based on the trailers, but Cruella is a live-action adaptation Disney should be proud of. It’s clever, risky, features a fitting punk rock backdrop, and provides enough humor to lighten the mood a few times. Cruella manages to pull off a satisfying examination of one of Disney’s most iconic characters and how she came to exist.

The live-action adaptations from Disney always spark conversation and Cruella won’t be any different once audiences have seen it. It probably runs a little longer than it should, but its overstay isn’t an unpleasant one thanks to the effort put into making it. Creating a live-action origin story for Cruella de Vil, the eccentric fashionista from 101 Dalmatians turned out better than expected. The film was directed by Craig Gillespie and written by Dana Fox and Tony McNamara. Cruella stars Joel Fry, Paul Hauser, Emily Beechman, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Emma Thompson, Mark Strong, and Emma Stone. Placed in the 1970s, Cruella centers on Estella de Vil (Stone), the soon-to-be eccentric fashion designer, and the path that leads to her becoming Cruella de Vil.

Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo by Laurie Sparham. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved

Cruella details the ambitious childhood of Estella before shifting into her chaotic, and fashion-centered adulthood. Fox and McNamara tell an engaging story that does seem held back at times since this is a Disney film. The darker aspects of this film could have been better portrayed, but the script still delivers strongly on the mature aspects of this story. Estella starts as a young drifter, being raised by her mother Catherine de Vil (Beecham) in London. She doesn’t fit in, has dreams of being a fashion designer, and gets into physical altercations at school. An unfortunate event happens, leaving Estella to come in contact with Jasper (Fry) and Horace (Hauser), friends who will eventually assist in her criminal activity. As an adult, Estella works for the Baroness von Hellman (Thompson), a renowned fashion legend, who shares many similarities to Estella. After discovering a connection between her past and the Baroness, a rivalry develops, and the Baroness plays a major role in Estella’s rise to popularity. 

Themes of distinctiveness shine bright throughout this film, especially during the interactions between Estella and the Baroness. Fox and McNamara flesh out a character study that takes a deep look at this clever Disney villain while still keeping it family-friendly for the most part. The twists along the way are shocking, unexpected, and assists in bringing Estella’s self-discovery full circle. The screenplay does enough to help audiences understand Estella, feel sympathy for her, but doesn’t make her out to be a hero. There are no heroes in this story, which is probably why Cruella will be compared to The Joker. Stone’s portrayal of Cruella makes this character just as charming as ever, and likable when she isn’t committing crimes of course.

Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo by Laurie Sparham. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Stone brings the charisma, wit, and charm you’d expect from the Cruella de Vil character. It’s clear she is having fun in this role, she eats up the scenery with her energy, demands your attention, and sinks into the headspace of this deranged individual. Thompson marvelously compliments Stone’s energy, as stated by the Baroness herself. When these two share the screen, it’s amazing to watch their characters upstage the other antics. Gillespie’s direction wonderfully captures the film’s over-the-top style, award-worthy costume designs, creates an emotional thrill ride, and sets a consistent rebel tone from start to finish. Cruella arguably features Stone’s best performance to date, as she is very believable as this diabolical fashionista and this is a role she should revisit.

Cruella may be two hours too long, but what it packs in those two hours is not to be missed. The back and forth between Estella and the Baroness can grow stale, but the film keeps you invested in seeing how this story ends. Stone’s enchanting performance here steers this film in the right direction anytime it seems to be going off course, and perhaps a follow-up wouldn’t be met with immediate dismissal. In a list of live adaptations that continues to grow, Cruella is one of Disney’s most memorable outings to date.

By Eric Trigg

 I am Horror fanatic that can't go a single month without watching something horror related. Buffy Summers, Sidney Prescott, and Harry Potter for president. The fact that sequels exist proves there is no perfect film. 

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