Over the past few years, we’ve seen a slew of Disney live-action remakes and re-imaginings. Some of which have been good, but some have been a little poor and underwhelming to the point that every time a new Disney live-action re-imagining is announced it’s often met with eyeballs rolling and heads shaking. But luckily Cruella is an excellent prequel and one that really feels like it deserved to be made. For a film about a woman who wants to skin dalmatians to make coats, you would never guess how fun it is and the fact that it’s just a downright good time.
The film is set in 1970s London, and we meet a young girl named Estella who encounters and befriends a couple of young thieves and the three of them try and survive on the streets of London. Estella has always dreamed of being a fashion designer and one day she manages to grab the attention of Baroness von Hellman (played by Emma Thompson). What follows is a series of events and twists and turns as Estella transforms into Cruella who is hell-bent on getting her revenge.
The one thing that immediately stands out, even before the film starts is the runtime. Seeing that the film is 136 minutes long, combined with the quality of some of the recent live-action Disney offerings, it wasn’t entirely clear if this film was really necessary and if it would be a good film. But within the first 10 minutes, Cruella immediately makes it mark and makes it clear that not only is the film going to be good, but it’s also going to be a story worth telling. At no point in the film does the 136-minute runtime ever feel noticeable. The film doesn’t drag at all, partly because there’s so much story to it but there isn’t really much that could be cut out as everything in it feels so important and relevant to the characters and the story that’s being told.
The opening immediately throws you into the fast-paced world of the 1970s punk rock movement and it grabs your attention and piques your interest straight away. And it keeps this fast-paced excitement going throughout the rest of the film. Emma Stone and Emma Thompson are both excellent and create such a wonderful dynamic between Estella/Cruella and the Baroness that fuels the events of the film, making it devilishly good fun to watch. In terms of the supporting players, Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser have some good moments as Jasper and Horace, the two grifters that help Cruella carry out her crimes. Unfortunately, Mark Strong does feel a little bit wasted as the Baroness’ valet and has quite little to do in the film, particularly in the first two acts which is a bit of a shame. But, ultimately it’s Emma Stone’s film, and she absolutely steals the show.
The soundtrack for the film feels very fitting and adds to the level of fun and enjoyment with lots of recognisable needle drops popping up throughout, and Nicholas Britell’s original score is also really fitting and works so well in the film.
The whole production design and all the costumes look great, and Cruella already looks like it could be a big contender for some of these awards come next year’s Oscars. However, the biggest issue is that whilst it adds a wealth of depth to the character of Cruella De Vil, it doesn’t immediately bear as strong a connection to 101 Dalmatians as you’d expect. The Cruella that we see in this film doesn’t entirely come across as someone with a penchant for killing puppies and so in that sense the film falls a bit short- but then killing puppies would definitely take away from the level of fun and enjoyment you get from Cruella.
It really is crazy to think just how much fun Cruella is given how much of a nasty piece of work her character is. It’s witty, clever, fun and it feels very fresh and original too. Unlike other Disney live-action ventures, it doesn’t feel like a monotonous re-telling of a beloved character and instead it injects some new energy into Cruella De Vil and turns her into a really fascinating character and one with so much more beneath the surface. Cruella is a great, stylish, and devilishly fun film.
Cruella releases in cinemas and on Disney+ with Premier Access on May 28th.