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Cruella Movie Review - Flashy and Fun!

Emma Stone nails a sympathetic origin story.

Reviewed by on May 26, 2021
Rating: 4 Star Rating

Cruella is a great origin story for one of the most colorful Disney villains. Despite lags in pace and repeated action, Cruella will entertain you. Emma Stone shines in a dual role. Read our review of the new live-action movie!

In Cruella, colorful misfit Estella is raised by her single mom Catherine (Emily Beecham) and her off-center creativity gets her kicked out of prep school. When Estella’s mom dies a horrible death, little orphan Estella ends up on the streets of London where she meets young thief/grifters Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (Joel Fry) who take her in. Years later in the 1970’s, after a hard life, adult Estella (Emma Stone) slowly starts living her fashion designer dream by joining the fashion house of evil Baroness Von Hellman (Emma Thompson) finally competing with her as the flamboyant Cruella under her own label. Cruella/Estella will ultimately learn family secrets and go on a path of creative revenge.

Is Cruella (Emma Stone) the future of '70's fashion?Is Cruella the future of '70's fashion?Courtesy of Disney

Troubled Youth

Estella/Cruella narrates the story of her past. She was always a creative rebel, especially with her wardrobe and black and white hair even at prep school where her only friends were her dog Buddy and a bookish girl named Anita (Kirby Howell-Baptiste). She was kicked out and, impoverished, Estella and her mom went to an old employer of mom’s Baroness Von Hellman. Mom asked for a little money to tide them over while Estella and Buddy tangled with the Baroness’s three Dalmatian guard dogs. Mom was refused help and, in a freakish “accident”, fell over a cliff to her death. Poor Estella ran for her life and ended up in London where two young con-men/thieves Jasper and Horace let her and Buddy join their “gang” which included a smart Chihuahua called Wink.

Young Estella is fashion forwardYoung Estella is fashion forwardCourtesy of Disney

Estella Grows Up

The young adult Estella (Emma Stone) has dyed her hair red and has been a successful thief and con-woman with Horace, Jasper and their dogs for ten years. They’ve picked pockets and stolen jewels from hotels, etc. while Estella designed and made their costumes. Jasper realizes that her talent should be rewarded and sneaks a fake resume for her into a fancy department store where she gets a legit job….cleaning toilets. Yuk. Any attempts to move up in the organization are thwarted until, a little tipsy, she re-designs a window in the posh store and it is adored by the Baroness who hires her for her fashion house. Estella quickly rises up the ranks with her designs and is a part of the Baroness’s inner circle of employees. When Estella sees her boss wearing a familiar heirloom necklace that used to belong to her mom, she freaks, especially when she’s coldly told an employee stole it then fell off a cliff.

Estella (Emma Stone) is hired by the Baroness at her fashion houseEstella is hired by the Baroness at her fashion houseCourtesy of Disney

Revenge Part I

Estella wants her necklace back! She tells the guys they’ll take it at Baroness’s Black and White ball. Enlisting the help of flashy fashion-forward dress shop owner Artie (John McCrea), she will go as her childhood alter-ego Cruella with black and white hair and wearing one of her boss’s earlier creations. She will be the flashy distraction while the guys steal the necklace from the safe. This doesn’t go so well since the Baroness is wearing the necklace and it ends up swallowed by one of her Dalmatians! In the process, Estella/Cruella suspects that the Baroness had something to do with mom’s death. Let’s steal the Dalmatians. The necklace will have to come out eventually. Having spotted old pal Anita, now a photo-journalist, Cruella decides to enlist her help.

Cruella and the guys have the Baroness's DalmatiansCruella and the guys have the Baroness's DalmatiansCourtesy of Disney

More Revenge

Anita agrees to help Cruella start her own fashion label so she can put the Baroness out of business. She will provide publicity and Artie will help too. No necklace has appeared even after the guys kidnap the dogs. When Baroness steals one of Estella’s designs as her signature piece, Estella/Cruella gets even in a most creative way, ruining the Baroness’s new collection. Her fashion fame is growing as she appears as Cruella and upstages the Baroness at every event until the angry Baroness realizes that Cruella and Estella are the same person and it appears that she made a coat out of the guard dog Dalmatians!  The Baroness traps Cruella and her two friends at their warehouse home and burns it down! People think Cruella is dead.

Cruella (Emma Stone) upstages the Baroness's arrival at a galaCruella upstages the Baroness's arrival at a galaCourtesy of Disney

Savior and Secrets

When an unexpected hero saves Cruella from the flames and her buddies Horace and Jasper (and dogs) are also found safe in jail, she breaks them out and plans the ultimate, final revenge. More secrets of Estella’s past come out and that helps Cruella achieve the revenge she craves all while taking on the De Vil last name and revealing that, no, she didn’t actually make a coat out of the Baroness’s Dalmatians. Will Estella be put to rest forever allowing Cruella to thrive?

Cruella learns a horrible secretCruella learns a horrible secretCourtesy of Disney

Wrapping Up

Colorful Cruella will evoke comparisons to The Devil Wears Prada but only on the surface. The story gets repetitive when similar revenge is taken at parties and galas again and again. This makes the pace of the film bog down. The film turns a true villain (making coats out of dogs???) into a misunderstood genius but the dog-killing thing would have made it hard for us to root for Cruella at all. Cruella/Estella is both the villain and the heroine of the piece since, like Disney’s Maleficent, she has her worthy reasons for evil deeds.

Cruella (Emma Stone) upstages the Baroness for the first timeCruella upstages the Baroness for the first timeCourtesy of Disney

Both the “Emmas” Stone and Thompson are really good in their roles.  They mutually steal scenes quite equally, The supporting cast is also strong but more could be made of Estella’s school friend Anita who helps her all the time with publicity for Cruella and is never thanked. There is no really good scene between them throughout. Better if the underdeveloped character were as important as thief pals Jasper and Horace. Must say that doggie thief named Wink (because he only has one eye and wears an eye-patch) is just super cute.  

Baroness (Emma Thompson) wears one of her new creationsBaroness wears one of her new creationsCourtesy of Disney

Lots of classic Cruella traits are well-integrated. We get the creation of the De Vil name, and the Dalmatian coat but no, she is more sympathetic when she doesn’t really make a coat out of dog fur and loves her dog Buddy although she ignores him at times.  

The film showcases beautiful and fun fashions that are punk/rock yet glam. Kudos to designer Jenny Beavans. Production design is also great as is make-up and hair.

Cruella (Emma Stone) in Artie's shopCruella in Artie's shopCourtesy of Disney

The Music track uses cool songs and they are mostly appropriate to the storyline BUT they are more from the 1960’s than the punk-rock ’70’s era. The Baroness may be a little retro but Cruella is totally of her time so where are bands like the Sex Pistols, Adam and the Ants and The Ramones? The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” would have been cool, etc. 

Considering everything, the film’s shortcomings are overshadowed by the fun and flashy performances, costumes and a satisfying origin story for one of Disney’s more colorful villains. We can award four stars.

Cruella Movie Rating: 4

Disney's Live-Action Cruella Movie Review - Flashy and Fun! | Emma StoneCourtesy of Disney

See Cruella in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access starting May 28th!