This critic’s expectations were cynical. How could a money-grabbing spin-off, designed for a big audience, really capture the spirit of punk – especially when it's meant for kids?
But director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya) and writers Dana Fox (Isn’t It Romantic) and Tony McNamara (The Great, The Favourite) manage just fine: creating a fun, furious and fabulous origin story for the dah-ling dognapper. Gillespie injects his Scorsesean style of inspired needle-drops, rhythmic editing, and whirlwind camera angles – crafting a new kind of Disney movie experience.
Compared to the weak efforts to zombify 2-D classics into 3-D remakes, Cruella needs to be the musical and sartorial beacon for all future attempts.
Photo: Getty/Disney Enterprises Inc./Laurie Sparham
You start with pre-Cruella Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) as a kid, being at school in the 60s and having many black marks to her name. She’s very likeable, an empowered rebel from birth with natural black and white hair – fending off bullies and protecting her friends. Seeing her modified school uniform, the blazer lined with badges and safety pins, her aspirations to be a fashion designer are clear from the start.
After enduring a bizarre trauma, which (sort of) explains Estella's future hatred for dalmatians, she lives out her childhood on the streets of London. It’s the Hollywood version of a Dickensian existence: living as a thief, with two lovable Cockney lads Jasper (the caring Joel Fry) and Horace (the funny Paul Walter Hauser). Estella eventually grows into the magnetic Emma Stone.
This older Estella eventually finds a job under the tyrannical Baroness, played with hilarious psychopathy by Emma Thompson. It’s no surprise that The Devil Wears Prada screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna shares a story credit for Cruella. Thompson seems to channel Meryl Streep’s unforgettable performance as the ruthless fashion editor Miranda Priestly.
Emma Thompson plays The Baroness with hilarious psychopathy. Photo: Getty/Disney Enterprises Inc./Laurie Sparham
After many slights, the polite and obliging Estella turns into Cruella by night. She competes with the Baroness in brutal fashion battles, each one more shocking and stunning than the last. Costume designer Jenny Beavan (Christopher Robin), who made over 70 looks for Stone, flaunts an eclectic, Oscar-worthy selection. These sequences are weird and opulent and exciting. And like the rest of the film, they're enhanced by a perfect playlist that includes The Stooges, The Clash, The Rolling Stones, and Nancy Sinatra.
The film occasionally struggles against its Disney restrictions. Cruella never goes too far because that sympathy for the devil would weaken the company’s moralistic trademark. Considering the 12A rating, she’s imprisoned against doing anything overtly evil. She's only permitted a few sadistic quips, masked by her insistence that she's joking, really.
If Cruella was allowed to swear or draw blood or indulge more in punk rock’s nihilistic abandon, this could’ve been a five-star film. Thankfully, however, Gillespie and the writers manage to work around these branded guidelines, still capturing the spirit of punk – censored though it is (they avoid the Sex Pistols entirely).
Emma Stone embodies that spirit, despite a preposterously posh accent straight out of Hollywood. She’s amusing, steely, and even upsetting, in what's possibly the best performance of her career (so far). The character absorbs her, and you, completely. Cruella is a rockin’ ride.
Cruella is in cinemas and available on Disney Plus from Friday 28 May
|What||Cruella, Disney Plus review|
28 May 21 – 28 May 22, IN CINEMAS / ON DISNEY PLUS
|Price||£determined by cinemas|
|Website||Click here for more information|