Cruella (USA/UK, 2021)

The story of the 101 Dalmations antagonist comes to life in this wild film driven by the performance of lead star Emma Stone.

Estella Miller was a young girl who was born with half her hair white and the other side black. A born troublemaker, she always had gotten in one issue after another. She was kicked out of school for repeated offenders. She did however make a friend in young Anita Darling and she thrives on one thing. That thing is fashion design. When her mother gets a job at Hellman Hall, during a party, her mother is killed when she is pushed off a cliff by three dalmatians.

Now as an adult, Estella finds two crooks, Jasper and Horace, and together, the trio work together to pull off some robberies. When she finds a job at a department store and crashes a window display, she gets the attention of the Baroness, the high fashion house leader that is all the rage in London. When Estella works for the Baroness, she impresses the Baroness until a twist of fate reveals that the Baroness may have been involved with her mother’s death. Deciding to get revenge, Estella decides to forge her own fashion house and created a new identity, taking a childhood nickname from her mother. Estella becomes Cruella and her intention is to become the new high fashion expert of London.

The 2014 film Maleficent took the Sleeping Beauty villainess and made her a true anti-hero who actually thrives on having love for Aurora rather than try to off her. This change in the character worked even more for its sequel, released five years later. The idea of famous Disney villains turned more into anti-heroes could be the next big thing as we have something similar with this tale of the 101 Dalmatians antagonist.

Emma Stone owns the film as the titular Cruella, who at first view is Estella Miller, a wannabe fashionista who grieves over the death of her mother, played by Into the Badlands’ Emily Beecham. It is funny to see how we see a young Estella show that fire in her that gets her in trouble, thus her mother giving her the nickname “Cruella” based on her arrogant nature. Up until the death of her mother, Estella feels grounded thanks in part to the love from Catherine. She does find her family in brothers and crooks Jasper and Horace, played by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser.

Another Emma, in this case, Emma Thompson is just delightfully evil as the high fashion expert known as the Baroness. Her mannerisms just ooze narcissism. And Thompson does it to a tee. Mark Strong brings in some great support as the Baroness’ valet John, who comes off as a henchman but somewhat of a benevolent one if that makes sense. As for Fry and Hauser, their roles are hilarious with Jasper being the smart crook while Jasper has a few screws loose.

John McCrea’s Artie comes off as the rock and rolling fashion store owner who becomes one of Cruella’s most trusted allies. He is a cross of Malcolm McLaren and David Bowie in his mannerisms. He is completely a rock star in his own right, even belting out Iggy Pop’s “I Just Wanna Be Your Dog” in a very pivotal moment in the film during one of Cruella’s crashing one of the Baroness’ parties. The final act has some shocking revelations and shows that Cruella never really hated the dalmatians but has some sort of respect for them as well as her childhood friend Anita, now played by Kirby Howell-Baptiste, who is a gossip reporter who is more than willing to help her chum becoming a force to be reckoned with.

Cruella is a wild and different look at the 101 Dalmatians antagonist as we see why she has a hatred from the dogs but yet upon coming some revelations, respects them more and sets out to make her name in the fashion world. Emma Stone owns the role and it will be great to see her return in a now greenlit sequel. In addition, an excellent soundtrack that fits perfectly with the times.

WFG RATING: A

A Disney Production. Director: Craig Gillespie. Producers: Kristin Burr, Andrew Gunn, and Marc Platt. Writers: Dana Fox and Tony McNamara; story by Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel, and Steve Zissis; based on the novel “101 Dalmatians” by Dodie Smith. Cinematography: Nicolas Karakatsanis. Editing: Tatiana S. Riegel.

Cast: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, John McCrea, Mark Strong, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Kayvan Novak, Jamie Demetriou, Andrew Leung.

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