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REVIEW: Disney makes a future dog-napper likable in its newest live-action film
By Amy Guethlein, ’21
Blame it on the lack of original ideas or movie corporations wanting to make even more money, but this new trend of villains getting their own feature-length films seems to be picking up speed. We’ve seen this with Joaquin Phoenix going insane in Joker, the reimagining of Sleeping Beauty in Maleficent, and arguably the Star Wars prequels, where we learn how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader. We want to see how these people became these wicked characters- and Cruella is the latest to join in on the fascination of the villain’s origin story.
This live-action reframing of the Disney animated classic One Hundred and One Dalmatians is set in 1970s London amidst the punk rock revolution. We follow Estella (Emma Stone) and her rise to infamy as she teams up with street kids Horace and Jasper to make a living of pickpocketing and petty thievery after a tragedy leaves her orphaned. She follows her dreams of becoming a fashion designer by landing an apprenticeship at a couture fashion house headed by the diabolical and narcissist Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson). The dynamic between these two inherently characters starts off as a mentor-protégé relationship that quickly sours and turns competitive. Think of The Devil Wears Prada, but with a darker twist.
Estella eventually unleashes her alter ego, Cruella, on the Baroness and upstages her rival at every gala and party with extravagant gowns and displays. The costume designer, Jennie Beavan, has done an incredible job channeling the punk era and weaving it into these outfits in an artistic and beautiful way. The first moments of fashion come from a young Estella modifying her uniform in primary school, turning her uniform blazer inside out to showcase doodles, and adding safety pins and mismatched buttons to her uniform. She frequently used her appearance as an act of rebellion, and we see this same style throughout Estella’s future designs. As the film progresses and Estella’s animosity with the Baroness runs deeper, the outfits only get more imaginative and daring.
Not only does the fashion reflect the chaotic backdrop of the fast-changing era, but the soundtrack is filled with 1960s and 1970s rebellious rock anthems. Its playlist is practically a greatest hits compilation, with some choices a little on the nose. How could they resist using “Sympathy for the Devil” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog”? Although they perfectly encapsulate the vibes of punk rock London and Cruella’s eccentric character against the polished visuals of the Baroness’ galas, there were a few too many needle drops. At times, the songs took away from the scene’s impact- especially when two well-known songs would play back to back. Despite my reservations, the soundtrack does a great job keeping things lively while Cruella’s conniving gets darker and a tad more unhinged.
Even though this is supposed to be a villain origin story, Cruella does its best not to make its central character a villain. It’s easy to root against Cruella De Vil in the original Disney classic. Still, this reimagining turns this antihero sympathetic instead of the puppy predator manic she is supposed to become. At times, you even forget this film is tied to One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and the connection doesn’t exactly seem to benefit the film- aside from Cruella’s distinct black and white hair or the dalmatian Easter eggs. Why she would grow to want to skin dalmatians for a coat is largely left unanswered, but then again, it is a family-friendly Disney heist movie- and I can’t wait to see how they postpone the inevitable fur obsession in the prequel’s sequel, which was officially confirmed in August.
Cruella set the bar high with incredible acting from Stone and Thompson, extraordinary eye candy fashion, and a rock-dominated soundtrack; this sequel is going to have big shoes-or heels- to fill. If you’re a fan of Disney, fashion, rock music, or just incredible camerawork, then you’ll enjoy this movie.
You can watch Cruella on DVD or on Disney+.