During the trailer reveal of Disney’s Cruella, judgements and comparisons were abundant; with audiences stating that the character of Cruella held similarities to recently adapted characters like Harley Quinn and the Joker – stylishly evil and mentally ill characters with large personalities. This “unhinged villain” character archetype has grown monstrously in recent years as the comic book genre continues to exhaust every conceivable variation of heroine and villain alike. And I admit, it is hard to deny that Cruella has indeed taken stylistic inspiration from the aforementioned characters, but such comparisons lose their impact once you truly begin cutting your way through the film. Instead it draws its inspirations from rather unexpected sources; Cruella provides a not-so-typical villain origin story, dressed up in a stylish heist film like Ocean’s 8 (2018), and stored inside the wardrobe of The Devil Wears Prada (2006). So yes, not quite an identity of its own, but one that not everyone quite predicted.
Style really is important to this film; it almost feels as though every facet was considered with style in mind – from its exuberant set design, fantastical costuming, and diverse soundtrack – in many ways this film feels like one continuous catwalk. But what we’re really here for is Cruella herself, and more specifically whether lead actress Emma Stone brings forth enough pizzazz to stitch together such a horrifically unlikable villain onscreen into someone we can all root for. In the realm of Disney, what’s worse than skinning dogs and wearing them? Well, luckily for Stone much of the rough edges of the Cruella character are handled by this film’s writing team, as they create a far more relatable and tragic character to root for and ultimately dampen the atrocities that this villain conducts so audiences can keep their popcorn in their stomachs. Stone’s performance was suitably stylish as she manages to deliver that signature “I’m better than you” tone you’d expect from such a character. Yes, the decadence of her character can become a little garish at times – but in Stone’s fairness, few actors in the world can deliver the line “I’m brilliant, bad, and a little bit mad” without it all seeming a little… overdone.
Emma Stone puts up a strong performance here; now I want to say she puts up the best, but I can’t say it with complete sincerity, as supporting actress Emma Thompson plays Cruella’s rival and is just as brilliant, bad, and a lot more mad. Thompson also happens to be far more entertaining to watch on-screen as her truly cruel nature makes Cruella seem, well, not that cruel by comparison. Does Thompson absolutely steal the spotlight from Stone here? Well no, but she certainly occupies a brighter spot than expected – this isn’t a complete washout for Stone like in the way Meryl Streep overshadowed Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada (2006). Stone and Thompson both have their moments to shine and ultimately that makes them the ideal pairing. But what binds this film together is the off-kilter plot direction it follows, as this film largely acts as part revenge drama and part heist flick; the snappy editing of its heist sequences provides a clean and lean pace. This is a film with a lot of moving narrative parts to juggle in the editing room; it’s really quite impressive that the film turned out as congruent as it was.
Cruella excels in its costuming as most of the outfits worn by her stand as the perfect personification of the character. From outlandish black and white graffiti strewn outfits to flamboyant and vibrant reds that ensure all eyes are on her; Cruella’s outfits really do resemble her unhinged persona. Nicolas Karakatsanis has some beautiful shot selections and he utilises the 1970’s London backdrop to his full advantage to help elevate the scenes that Cruella is featured in. Sadly in what is starting to become a trend in recent Disney films such as The Call of the Wild (2019) is the persistence to CGI their dog characters. This is completely fine in the films most outlandish scenes where the dogs are participating in the heists, but when it come to the more calmer moments the CGI just takes you out of the film as basic tasks such as walking or laying around could have been more visually appealing had they used a real dog which had been trained for those moments. Cruella has already been established as an unhinged, unpredictable and evil character who pushes the boundaries of what is morally correct or not. So it is fitting that Nicholas Britell composes a punk rock anthem as her main theme, this theme is perfect as the punk rock genre itself resembles edginess which is the embodiment of Cruella herself. Accompanying the score is a soundtrack that is unique and compiled of a wide range of 1970’s hits mixed with artistic covers. Now, the soundtrack selection often works in particular scenes, however the film does overuse the soundtrack songs and at times it just starts to become tiresome and repetitive.
As mentioned, style is really important in this film; from the grandiose performances, embellished editing style, and the punk rock/high fashion fusion of its costuming and overall muted punchy visual aesthetic. Cruella works as the hybrid creature that it is. It’s not led to success by one specific thing, but rather a jambalaya of various elements that work well enough to make this film… actually pretty good.