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Cruella – An Odd Prequel That is Loaded With Expensive Style and Fun Performances

May 26, 2021

Quick Thoughts: – B – Cruella is a reverse engineered oddity that’s worth a watch. This expensive prequel looks excellent, and features solid performances from a game cast. 

The Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya, Lars and the Real Girl, Fright Night, Million Dollar Arm) directed Cruella is able to justify its odd existence with its showmanship and larger than life persona. While there’s no non-clumsy way to explain Cruella’s backstory, the film tries its best to build a world in which the initially likable Estella/Cruella (Emma Stone – very inspired casting) devolves into a person who is totally cool with puppy murder. It’s nice seeing Disney attempt a PG-13 prequel that isn’t a shot-for-shot remake of a beloved animated film, and Cruella belongs in the upper echelons of the Disney live-action remake alongside The Jungle Book, Pete’s Dragon and The Jungle Book (1994). While it’s loaded with coincidences and wild character swings, there’s enough there to make it a fun overall experience.

Cruella focuses on how one of the most iconic literary/movie villains of all time goes from nice to cruel. The film begins with a young Estella/Cruella dealing with elementary school, and living with her single mom Catherine (Emily Beecham – watch Into the Badlands now!) in a small English town. Estella’s erratic behavior eventually gets her kicked out of her school, which forces her mom to pack her up and move to London to start over in a new place. However, when they make a stop at the foreboding Hellman House, tragedy strikes as Catherine is killed by three dalmatians after Estella causes a stir at the fancy party. This leads to Estella teaming up with young Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (Joel Fry), and forming a crew of thieving orphans who are constantly looking for an angle to exploit. 

Estella eventually gets a job at a prestigious clothing store where she’s forced to clean toilets and deal with an incredibly snooty boss who will never promote her. One drunken night, she rearranges the store’s front-entrance fashion display, and it gets noticed by Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson – So good), who gives Estella a job designing clothes for her. From there, things start going bad as Estella/Cruella learns more about the Baroness, and comes to grips with her “evil” Cruella side, which starts a fued with the Baroness and leads to some major revelations that won’t be spoiled here. 

The biggest flaw with the film is how it incorporates coincidences and sudden mood changes that don’t feel organic to the story. Writers Dana Fox (How to Be Single, Isn’t it Romantic) and Tony McNamara (The Great, The Favourite) had their work cut for them, as they had to reverse engineer Cruella’s story to make her likable, and come up with convincing ways to make her evil. They also had to explain why she hates dalmatians, became a fashion icon, and drives like a maniac. There’s a decent amount of box checking needed to be done, but, in the end, the film gets there quite successfully.

When the awards seasons rolls around, costume designer Jenny Beaven (Mad Max: Fury Road, The King’s Speech), and production designer Fiona Crombie (The Favourite) will most certainly be in contention for all the major awards, as their work is wonderful and will most certainly be considered iconic in years to come. Also, cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis (I, Tonya, Triple 9) must’ve had a blast filming Cruella because it’s loaded with sweeping shots that involve cranes, steadicams and roaming camera tricks that float throughout the scene. Overall, it’s a beautiful looking film that had the full might of Disney behind it. 

Final Thoughts Cruella is a very expensive prequel that looks excellent and features fun performances from the A-list cast.

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