Directed by Craig Gillespie, ‘Cruella’ presents the titular character (Emma Stone) from her beginnings as Estella Mille; a young, creative and troublesome child whose rebellious actions later lead to an unexpected tragedy that results in her mother’s death. Remorseful, Estella represses her alter-ego, Cruella, who is believed to be the one responsible for the deadly accident. Orphaned and alone, Estella finds good company with misfits Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and dogs Buddy and Wink, who become long-time allies in their criminal activities together. The silver lining of Estella’s childhood trauma and her subsequent life of crime becomes the catalyst for the underlying development of Cruella’s mad and obsessively stylish persona. This later serves as a powerful weapon against the antagonist Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), a formidable high-profile fashion designer.
As far as the narrative goes, Disney took a lot of liberties in creating a Cruella-centric storyline, yet honoured much of what was already known about the character through the animated (One Hundred and One Dalmatians) and live-action film, as well as the Dodie Smith novel the franchise is based on. Interestingly, Glenn Close, who had previously played the role of Cruella de Vil in 101 Dalmatians served as one of ‘Cruella’s’ executive producers.
Although this fresh approach to a beloved origin story is much appreciated, Cruella de Vil’s backstory seems to follow the typical anti-villain archetype — misunderstood, bold, eccentric and occasionally morally conflicted — which made the character more or less predictable, with some viewers expressing similarities with the tragic nature of fellow Disney villain, Maleficent, in her eponymous 2014 live-action film.
Nevertheless, this weakness is minor when one considers the visual aspects of Cruella, most notably the costume and production design that was provided by award-winning designers Jenny Beavan and Fiona Crombie, respectively. Beavan and Crombie showcase their talents throughout the film using striking but complementary outfits and sets that range from ritzy to edgy — undoubtedly fitting for Cruella’s notorious fixation with fashion, taste and mayhem.
This combination of an entirely new but respectable villain storyline along with a strong cast and crew does a worthy job of maintaining Cruella’s household name within the Disney universe.
Cruella is available for purchase on Disney+ as a Premier Access title and will be available to all Disney+ subscribers on Aug. 27, 2021