Film Review: Cruella (2021)

Emma Stone and Emma Thompson have lots of fun in the entertaining Cruella, which is only just a little bit too long

“Darling, if I’m going to need to repeat myself a lot, this isn’t going to work out”

There’s something a little curious about a film that simultaneously wants to highlight one of cinema’s most iconic villains yet also neuter her most defining attributes. So we can rest assured that no dalmatians are harmed in the telling of this story (or presumably making of this movie) nor is there a cigarette holder to be seen. So what’s left for Cruella to do?

A fair amount as it turns out. Craig Gillespie’s film finds an origin tale for her in 1970s London (story by Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel, and Steve Zissis), locating her at the vanguard of the nascent punk movement (or at least a Disneyfied version of it). It’s a nifty move that forefronts her creative endeavours, whilst adding to a notorious canon of fashion geniuses gone ‘woo-hoo’.

Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Emma Stone is huge value for money as Estella Miller, whose hardscrabble childhood is rudely ended with the death of her mother (formative in more ways than one). And as she battles her way into an apprenticeship with noted couturier the Baroness (a scenery-chewing Emma Thompson having the time of her life), a key revelation inexorably binds their fates together.  

With a soundtrack full of 70s classics and a crack creative team (Jenny Beavan’s costumes and Fiona Crombie’s production design both excellent), Cruella’s family-friendly credentials never seem in doubt. Which ultimately is a bit of a shame as it defangs her just a little too much insofar as the source material goes. Her being a bit mean to her pals (Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser) doesn’t really compensate.

And the film does flag a little, with perhaps one act too many dragging out the resolution we know is coming. But there’s many a gleeful treat to be had in Cruella, not least former Jamie star John McCrea playing Disney’s first ever live-action queer character.

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