“Cruella” is a wild tale of everyone’s favorite Dalmatian-hating, split haired villain from Disney.
The film, directed by Craig Gillespie, stars Emma Stone as the titular Cruella de Vil at an earlier time in her life before her escapades with Dalmatians. The film is a prequel and features younger versions of characters from the original “101 Dalmatians” film including Anita Darling, portrayed by Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Roger Dearly, portrayed by Kayvan Novak, and Cruella’s bumbling henchmen Horace and Jasper, played by Paul Walter Hauser and Joel Fry, respectively. The film is a prequel telling the story of how Cruella de Vil became her mighty and devilish self.
The film begins with the origin story before the origin where Cruella, born under the name Estella, finds herself in London with no home and no family. She meets her lifelong friends Horace and Jasper even if the friendship we know from our modern-day tale does not seem so realized. This film also functions as a soft reboot/retelling of the story we know. Cruella and her newfound family in Horace and Jasper survive on the streets by pulling off various heists. Cruella’s primary job is making disguises for the gang whereas Horace and Jasper’s primary job is the actual theft. Eventually, Cruella makes a public display of her craftsmanship with clothing and is discovered by the Baroness von Hellman, played by Emma Thompson. She begins working for the Baroness but soon realizes there is something of a secret connection between her past and the Baroness. She begins to plot a course for revenge on the Baroness for her misdeeds, setting the bulk of the story in motion.
“Cruella” is a film that ultimately doesn’t take itself too seriously. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t have its heartfelt moments. There are a multitude of plot holes in the film but much like any reasonable Disney film, we shouldn’t care. It’s about having fun with an old Disney character. Now, we simply must talk about the elephant in the room for “Cruella:” mental health. The film further perpetuates a stigma around mental health. Cruella, ultimately being a villain, is pushed to her dastardly deeds by her own untreated mental illness. One could make the argument that because it’s a period piece technically speaking that the English weren’t whole hog on modern mental health research, but we are a modern audience, and the filmmakers know this. There’s not much excuse for them continuing a stereotype that people with mental illness are more likely to commit crime because of their illness.
The other pitfall the film has is that it’s a little unusually rooting for someone whom we know wants to skin Dalmatian puppies for their fur in the future of the film universe. The cinematography and set/costume design make us enjoy this weird juxtaposition a little more but it’s still a little unnerving to be on the side of the future attempted dog murderer.
Ultimately, “Cruella” is a fun film. It’s full of great, great moments that are well shot and well designed. “Cruella” receives a B-plus rating.