By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Going into this movie, I didn’t know what to think. 1961’s 101 Dalmations definitely had an impact on my childhood when I first saw it during a re-release during the 1970s. However, the live-action remakes that were released decades later left me rather flat. Well, my initial qualms, couldn’t have been more wrong. With some talented writers behind the screenplay, director Craig Gillespie has delivered a prequel/origin story for the Disney villain that is entertaining, compelling and exciting. And with the wonderfully talented Emma Stone in the lead, role, Cruella shows that, with the right storytellers, a genuine case can be made for a villain that has haunted children for generations.
The film tells the story of Estella/Cruella, a young lady who often bewilders her loving mother Catherine (Emily Beecham). Single and determined to raise her properly, Catherine hopes to impart her goodness to a child that sometimes has selfish and unorthodox tendencies, but also has a natural talent for creativity that often manifests in ideas for fashion. Estella sadly gets orphaned after the untimely loss of her mother. She manages to evade the authorities and survives with fellow orphans Jasper and Horace.
The three survive into adulthood as thieves scrounging whatever they can. As Estella is smart and talented, she manages to get a job working for a high dollar clothing store featuring the gorgeous fashions of Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson). After proving that her talents exceed the skills needed for her menial job, the Baroness hires Estella as a member of her fashion design team. When she realizes that the Baroness is behind her mother’s death, her nasty side Cruella takes over and leads her on a path of vengeance.
Written by Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel, Steve Zissis, Dana Fox, and Tony McNamara, Gillespie’s Cruella is an absolute treat, full of style and panache that display’s the skills of its director and crew in some remarkable and highly enjoyable ways. The writing acts as a solid and firm foundation for magnificence, while the direction and the artistic work of Gillespie’s team brings this magnificence to fruition. The movie effecively makes Cruella de Vil a somewhat sympathetic character who has had a rather sad life, but has respectfully risen above these obstacles.
Emma Stone is an absolute revelation when it comes to her portrayal of the iconic Disney character. She beautifully portrays facets of the character that lovable, but also shows a nasty darker side that promises an even nastier future. Emma Thompson is also fantastic as Estella’s boss/enemy Baroness von Hellman. She beautifully reflects what Estella can become if she were to completely embrace her more “cruel” side. The movie also features outstanding turns by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser who portray Estella’s friends and future henchmen Jasper and Horace. The movie also features great performances by Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Mark Strong, and John McCrea.
Though this movie might initally seem like an odd choice for Disney’s live-action series based on previous animated entries, the filmmakers of this movie prove that, with the right creative minds behind it, there is a place for great live action iterations. Thankfully, Disney did not attempt another live-action remake of 101 Dalmations, but instead chose to focus on an origin story behind that movie’s iconic villain. Well, I should say that, thankfully, Disney chose wisely when they selected the filmmakers for this film, as they have succeeded tremendously.