I did not know what to think about Cruella , Disney’s latest entry into their live action adaptations. The whole “villains are misunderstood, actually” premise from Disney was really hard to get on board with. I mean, with Maleficent, within the confines of that universe, a curse is a lot more esoteric than Cruella’s original cartoon puppy murder. Oh, and the Joker-esque edgy advertising for Cruella really didn’t help. Despite all that baggage, director Craig Gillespie and company manage to craft a stylish pastiche out of both of those concepts, even if it slowly overwhelms itself with tropes.
Cruella is such a strange film that heavily benefits from its “punk rock” vibe and deep focus on ‘60s and ‘70s sound. Centered on the motif of our titular character becoming a fashion designer, the garbs are long and flowing, and so is its soul. It’s a bombastic, often exciting ride that is interesting enough to distract you from the operatic soapy character moments.
Emma Thompson’s antagonistic Baroness is a little more cliché, but watchable. Basically everyone else rules. Emma Stone, as usual, is electric, putting a ton of effort into the role and chewing the scenery as needed when the scraps of the script are low energy. Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser as Jasper and Horace respectively deserve a special shoutout as her likeable cronies, allowing them to evolve far beyond their bumbling cartoon forms.
While all of this was unfolding, I was sometimes torn as to whether or not I actually liked it, but I had to keep watching. Stone is a riot, and nearly everyone, even the bit parts, bring so much energy to the table that you can’t really look away. Its signature style is a huge reason why this film stands out, and if this doesn’t get nominated for “best costume design” at the next Oscars, it’ll be a travesty.
If you’re wondering whether or not it exonerates the character; that’s kind of what Disney is going for here, but I wouldn’t say they succeeded. Some of it works (the duality of her “Estella” nice personality and her “Cruella” mean one goes over just as nuanced as you’d expect), some of it doesn’t. The narrative really runs out of steam in the third act, which starts with an overly verbose monologue that basically recaps everything we just saw and reinforces the aforementioned duality vibe.
Getting to that point, however, was a ton of fun. Cruella is a deeply uneven film, but overall, go in with an open mind to enjoying a bit of popcorn fare and you’ll more than get by. When that third act lull hits you should be attached enough to the cast to the point where you’ll power through it.