An expensive looking, but bland enough, vehicle for star turns from two powerhouse Emma’s.
Estella (Emma Stone) grew up without a mother, after a horrific accident she blames herself for. Left to fend for herself, she teams up with Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter-Hauser), and the subsequent band of pick-pockets / thieves robs myriad people blind. However, Estella doesn’t love the life, and instead dreams of being a fashion designer. After Jasper hooks her up with a gig in a fancy fashion department store, her work is noticed by the fabled Baroness (Emma Thompson) - London’s premiere fashion designer. The Baroness takes Estella under her wing (as much as she does with anybody), but this leads to a horrifying discovery from Estella about the fate of her mother. She’s left with only one option; to transform into her alter ego Cruella, and challenge The Baroness for supremacy in London’s fashion world.
Cruella has a different look to many of Disney’s recent live-action reimaginings. It’s a bit grittier, a bit grimier, aided no doubt by it’s period look. Frankly, it looks beautiful. But that indie-film look isn’t a factor of its budget, because Cruella cost over $200 million to put on screen. For anyone watching the movie without sound, it might be hard to imagine why that is the case. For those with functioning ears, however, the cost centres are evident immediately, and consistently throughout, because this film has the most gratuitously expensive soundtrack imaginable. Every 70’s banger is featured, undoubtedly blowing the soundtrack budget sky high. The shocking thing is that for the most part, this incessant hall-of-fame rollout adds little to the film, other than dragging you kicking and screaming out of it.
The rest of the mammoth budget is likely spent on the things that actually make this film standout - that being the costuming, set design, and lead actresses. The costumes and fashions are absolutely gorgeous, blending a mix of relatable period pieces with stunning new concoctions that help solidify Cruella’s supposed fashion bonafides. The set decoration is similarly impressive, whimsical and grounded all at once. It brings a Disney sensibility to a British period piece.
Then there are the two Emmas. Emma Stone is incredible as Cruella, grounding this anti-hero while also showcasing her range - whether she’s faking innocence, streaming tears in emotional scenes, or just throwing lewks as she struts down that catwalk. It’s even more impressive when you consider that the character, as written, gives her very little to work with. In this script, Cruella’s motivations turn on a dime with no rhyme or reason, and a lesser actress would have struggle to convincingly bring Jasper and Horace back to the fold after treating them like garbage for a third of the runtime. Only Stone could make us care again.
She is matched, if not exceeded, by the gloriously cruel Emma Thompson, who dives into her villainous turn with relish. Like a murderous version of Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada, Thompson is prone to gloriously sly one-liners, beautiful eyebrow raises, and a stunning fashion sense. She is a joy to watch, chewing this material up and spitting it out into what will surely become a series of not-to-be-missed GIFs.
In the end, Cruella is saved by these three elements, because outside of them all we have is a story that we have generally seen before, that retcons a truly villainous Disney character only by giving her someone even worse to go up against, and couches it all behind a disturbingly and distractingly expensive soundtrack that does more harm than good.
You won’t remember the plot of Cruella, but you will remember Emma Stone and Emma Thompson in this film.