Disney Villains are just as identifiable a brand as Disney Princesses. From theme parks to toy lines, they're a very big part of the Disney package - except in the last decade, they have started to become less and less prolific. 'Wreck-It Ralph's' King Candy, 'Frozen's' Hans, and Bellwether from 'Zootopia' don't really hold up against Captain Hook, Ursula and Maleficent the same way that Anna, Moana and Rapunzel fit into the Princess line-up. As Disney has become more and more of monopoly brand, identity is more important than ever, and making characters fully wicked to the bone doesn't quite fit, hence the influx of twist villains - or in the case of 'Raya and the Last Dragon' and 'Moana', a focus on redemption and inner good (hell, we got a whole Disney Channel Original Film series devoted to villain's kids not being all bad). But that's not to say the public's desire for villains is gone. 'Maleficent's' US$758.5 million box office proves otherwise, along with constant (pre-pandemic) sold-out villain parties at the parks. Disney has to be more creative on when and how to portray villains - and 'Cruella' is one of the biggest returns to a brand we haven't seen in a long time.
After the death of her mother at a young age, Estella (Emma Stone, 'La La Land', 'The Favourite') finds Jasper (Joel Fry, 'Parasite', 'Love, Wedding, Repeat') and Horance (Paul Walter Hauser, 'I, Tonya', 'Richard Jewell') have been surviving by thieving their way around London. But Estella still has a big dream to become a fashion designer, and gets a job under The Baroness (Emma Thompson, 'Late Night', 'Saving Mr Banks'), the biggest name in the industry. But after discovering something that connects the dots of her past, Estella dons the alter ego Cruella - what her mother called her bad side - as a way to get revenge, all while looking devilishly good.
The biggest thing that makes 'Cruella' work is the fact this is a new story, and not a re-tread of '101 Dalmatians'. The biggest problem I had with 'Maleficent' is it changes the villainous things we have seen her do and twists them to make her good. 'Cruella' removes this problem entirely, but meeting her before she became De Vil leaves room for her to still be "good" as she grows into the villain we know her as. At the end of the day, this is still Disney, so we were never going to get an entirely wicked Cruella, but the film does really succeed at showing what she would have been like before those darn Dalmatians. The fact that is a new story makes the film a whole lot more engaging, and we don't know entirely how it will play out nor how close to the original film's story we will get. Being darker than the average Disney film (the marketing does suggest it will be more tonally darker, but it's about the same as the 'Maleficent' franchise), it also creates another layer of what the filmmakers will and won't do.
Thanks to the Baroness character, who is pure evil, we still get some of that delicious villainy we have been missing from the last couple decades. Thompson is perfect in the role, and is that perfect mix of campy and scary. As for Stone, you really understand her motives, and can really see the blueprint for what she will become.
The biggest issue is the run time. Man, 134 minutes is just too much. We spend way too long with her as a child, and while some of it is necessary, it could have been streamlined a lot. The film is filled with fashion show heists that we could easily do without, while never boring, they do slow down the middle of the film.
'Cruella' is first in Disney's live-action remake/reboot line-up to actually deliver on its promise - provide backstory of a villain and succeed.
While for the most part most references to the animated film are tasteful, including the inclusion of Anita (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and Roger (Kayvan Novak). They felt very natural to the world and not forced just because they are familiar characters (even though making Anita and Cruella the same age seems a little off; I always thought de Vil was much older). Even things like where she got the name de Vil are tasteful and not like how Han found Solo in 'Solo: A Star Wars Story', however the mid-credit scene, while cute, does raise more questions if this version of the Dalmatians story were to continue.
Horance and Jasper are also quite enjoyable characters and not just buffoons as they have been in other 'Dalmatians' media, with both actors have doing a great job and had a lot of fun to the feature. They also have a third sidekick in Artie (Jon McCrea, who played the original Jamie in 'Everybody's Talking About Jamie' on the West End), who is here to help Cruella with her fashion statements. And while there's nothing explicit about the character, he is allegedly Disney's first openly gay character... which makes this about the tenth first openly gay character in a Disney film.
The costume design is absolutely to die for; it's reason alone to experience the film on the screen over its Disney+ release.
Glenn Close - who of course played Miss de Vil in one of the first live-action Disney remakes - serves as an executive producer, alongside Stone. Since I know a lot of people are up in arms about Close not returning, Stone does a wonderful job in the role, serving as the perfect first evolution to both the live-action and animated versions of the iconic character.
'Cruella' is the first in Disney's live-action remake/reboot line-up to actually deliver on its promise - provide backstory of a villain and succeed. She isn't Girl Bossed in the same way they have done with Belle and Jasmine; this is the origin of a true villainous icon - and the first of these live-action films to be fully enjoyable. While it's not full-on Cruella de Vil as we know her, it serves as the perfect building block to who she becomes. While I didn't have any questions about her past, it nonetheless provides some compelling answers.
The biggest crime is not including Selena Gomez's iconic cover of 'Cruella de Vil'.