Disney’s Cruella Left Much To Be Desired

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Disney’s most recent live-action reinterpretation of one of their classic animated villains — this time Craig Gillespie’s Cruella in theaters and on Disney+ — has some of the most far-fetched logic I’ve seen for a redemption arc to date. Already the casting was pretty bizarre, with a then-recently-Oscar-winning Emma Stone announced as the queen of evil herself back in 2019.


After being chosen as Best Actress for Damien Chazelle’s La La Land (2016), and following up with an arguably even more impressive Oscar nominated performance in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite (2018), signing on for a Zombieland sequel and an unnecessary Disney spin-off probably wasn’t what fans had in mind for one of the biggest actresses of her generation. Although it isn’t to say Cruella’s flaws are any of the cast’s faults. There’s actually quite a lot to unpack for such a bland, mediocre flick.

In this universe of Cruella DeVil, Stone’s diabolical fashionista is born as a trouble-making misfit named Estrella, who is expelled from school at age 9; and not long after becomes orphaned when her mother Catherine (Emily Beecham) is tripped off a cliff by three dalmatians. Distraught and on the run, little precocious Estrella quickly develops a knack for pickpocketing with two juvenile street savvy accomplices, Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (Joel Fry). But her main passion and talent is with fashion design, which are put to the test when she becomes the apprentice of the ruthless Baroness (Emma Thompson) of the haute couture scene by the time Estrella (or Cruella) is in her 20s.

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It’s almost impressive how much Gillespie and the screenwriters try to rewrite Cruella’s whole persona to excuse the fact that she’s known as a psychotic animal killer. Almost being the key word. To make the future villain somewhat likable we not only have to see why she resents dalmatians, but also give her an antagonist who is even worse. So we have Thompson’s Baroness, who might be just as evil as the original Cruella to a different extent. She essentially has absolutely no morals or qualms with treating humans around her like trash, and doesn’t think twice about the consequences of harming people. She’s so evil you have to wonder how she got to the top of the fashion world as it’s hard to believe she would do the same amount of butt-kissing Cruella begins her career with.

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Another thing to note is that even as an American viewer, I wasn’t surprised to find only one of the five writing credits is apparently British. Dodie Smith’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians has taken place in London in every screen adaptation, yet it’s always been a bit ambiguous on Cruella’s background. In Disney’s 1961 animated film, Betty Lou Gerson actually channeled infamous stage-film actress Tallulah Bankhead’s Transatlantic dialect for her vocal portrayal of Cruella. But both Glenn Close in Stephen Herek’s 101 Dalmatians (1996) and Stone in Gillespie’s feature opted for just generic English accents. It would have been clever if the filmmakers of Cruella had actually written her as an American trying to fit into upper class England for a fresher take; and in return also would have made more sense why some of the dialogue sounds like American lingo rather than English.

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The acting is a mixed bag. Thompson is clearly phoning it in, and Stone is a little inconsistent with either emoting too much or not enough. Shockingly, the biggest revelation to me was Hauser’s effort as Horace. Already a critical favorite with his performances in biopics like Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell (2019) and Gillespie’s earlier movie I, Tonya (2017), playing a goofy sidekick with a Cockney accent wasn’t exactly something I would have pictured from the character actor. But he totally pulled it off and reminded me of a young Bob Hoskins. Outside of that, there wasn’t much else that worked for me in Cruella. I did get a kick out of the Stooges’ ‘I Wanna be Your Dog’ playing during Cruella’s first fashion show. But like most of the direction and script, even the classic-rock-heavy soundtrack felt more style than substance. If you want to see one of the greatest villains in family film history at her best, stick with the 1961 classic.


Have you seen the new Cruella movie? Are you a fan of famous villains getting their own redemption arcs? Tell us in the comments!

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