Disney has gotten many of their signature films remade like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast; it now seems like they’re beginning to transition into fewer remakes and more reimaginings. Their latest film Cruella is their most refreshing live-action update yet. What makes it most refreshing is how little it feels the need to tie into the source material. It serves less like a prequel to the original 101 Dalmatians, as much as it is a very loose spinoff, using the characters in a simple, fun, and unique way.
What’s most exciting about Cruella is the risks it takes. It opens with immediate iconic music and lush imagery, making it clear right away that director Craig Gillespie intends on having his singular voice be evident behind the camera. Something that I think has been sorely missing from a lot of Hollywood remakes/spin-offs here lately. Of course, one could argue that Cruella is leaning a bit heavy on style over substance. Its overreliance on its soundtrack and flashy editing is becoming almost a director trade back – but I ask, is that even inherently a bad thing? Going into a film about the iconic Disney villain Cruella de Vil, I don’t necessarily want a deep dive into anything remotely serious nor a painfully serious film. However, for a character so drenched in the world of fashion and whose personality can light up an entire room, Cruella does a wonderful job at keeping that energy alive throughout its duration.
Emma Stone is absolutely marvelous in the titular role. Not only does she bring the nuance to what used to be a side character, but she completely anchors the film and carries it tremendously. What stood out most was an unexpected long-take closeup monologue toward the end that has Stone at her most raw and delicious. It’s a grand and audacious performance that deserves to be remembered come awards season time. Emma Thompson is also quite fabulous here, as the fashion industry giant Baroness – someone Cruella and her gang begin to target for a potential heist. Thompson steals every scene that she’s in, and when she and Stone are acting alongside each other, it genuinely feels nothing short of movie magic.
Does the film possibly teeter to the point of being overlong in areas? Perhaps. At the end of the day, is it still a spinoff of an existing property? Absolutely. Yet considering we will get these things no matter what, I will take something like Cruella any day of the week. It is an absolute blast of painstakingly sublime costume design and delicious fun. The film is definitely far from perfect, but it’s also the most genuine, uncynical fun I’ve had with a film so far in 2021 and feels like a refreshing change of pace from Disney’s reimaginings turning out lately. [B+]