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Film Review: Cruella

29 May 21 words: George White

Disney has released the prequel none of us needed. But is it still worth a watch? Screen Co-Editor George White thinks so... 

Director: Craig Gillespie
Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry
Running time: 134 minutes

When it was announced in 2013 that Cruella de Vil, the puppy-murdering sociopath who creates havoc in the Dalmatians movies, was going to receive her own origin story, the question on the lips of film fans, critics and — let’s face it — pretty much everyone on the face of the earth was… why? Yet, while Cruella fails to truly justify its existence, it is a fun, playful flick that marks the return of proper blockbuster entertainment on the silver screen. It really shouldn’t work, but it weirdly does — more or less. 

The film tells the story of how Estella (Emma Stone), mischievous and disobedient but also driven and caring, ends up adopting the persona of Cruella following the death of her mother and some outright abusive treatment from her boss, fashion mogul The Governess (Emma Thompson). 

This premise gives screenwriters Dana Fox and Tony McNamara the chance to hit all the cliche narrative beats that are expected from prequels — and, boy, they do not hold back. From demonstrating how de Vil decided on her name and clothing style to explaining why she developed a slightly excessive hatred of dalmatians, Cruella tells its origin story with a sometimes severe lack of subtlety, falling into the trap that so many others like it have found themselves in. 

This lack of subtlety is a key theme throughout the film, with too many jokes feeling forced and too much dialogue feeling clumsy and lacking sophistication. Offering plenty of amusing moments for younger audiences, Cruella fails to follow through on its promise of a darker, more mature approach to its entertainment, with Rotten Tomatoes’ claim that the movie is a “surprisingly sinister mix of Joker and The Devil Wears Prada” feeling slightly off-base. 

That said, there is still a hell of a lot to enjoy here. Not least is Craig Gillespie’s directorial work, with the Australian, much like the titular character, showing a strong conviction to style and spirit. Dynamic camerawork and sharp, fast editing techniques make this proper, delightful big screen viewing. Action set pieces are surprisingly effective, and flashy graphics give the film a three-dimensional feel throughout.

Will you have a fun time with this film? You bet you Vil

The soundtrack is also incredible, with Disney using every penny of its extensive royalties budget to secure an abundance of stone-cold classics, boasting everything from Blondie’s One Way Or Another to The Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go. Combining well with the vibrant visuals, this next-level musical feast gives the likes of Baby Driver and Adventureland a real run for their money. 

By far the biggest selling point of this film was Stone in the lead role and, for the most part, she delivers. After picking up a ton of awards for a more serious performance in The Favourite, the 32-year-old gets the chance to have some proper fun this time around and — a slightly wandering accent aside — she takes that chance with open arms. 

The more she leans into the unhinged, vengeful side of her character, the better Stone’s performance gets. By the time the final credits roll, the Oscar winner has managed to flesh out a fully-fledged, no-holds-barred anti-hero that is both delightfully entertaining and borderline terrifying. 

The other Emma, however, is slightly less effective. While clearly having a blast as the detestable Baroness, Thompson feels somewhat underused, her character lacking any depth or complexity. After she commits her 283rd unthinkable act of evil, her performance becomes pretty monotonous, falling from shockingly vile to just outright annoying. 

Despite a weak script and a general lack of subtlety, Cruella does mark an impressive return to the big screen for Disney’s ongoing live-action project. With some inventive direction, a killer soundtrack and a committed performance from Emma Stone, this is a blockbuster best watched on the biggest screen possible. Is it absolutely necessary? No. Will you have a fun time with it? You bet you Vil.

Did you know? Despite being an English character, Cruella de Vil has never been portrayed by an English actress in any of her live action incarnations. 

Cruella is out now in cinemas and on Disney+

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