Cruella De Vil, the big budget Disney picture starring Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, debuted on May 28th and screams “Sequel” from the moment the last scene fades. Director Craig Gillespie has pulled out all the fashion stops on this one, and it shows.
In the last 23 hours, the Hollywood Reporter has confirmed those sequel suspicions, with these remarks:
“We are very pleased with Cruella’s box office success, in conjunction with its strong Disney+ Premier Access performance to date,” a Disney spokesperson said in a statement. “The film has been incredibly well received by audiences around the world, with a 97% Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes, in addition to A’s in every demographic from CinemaScore on opening weekend, ranking it among the most popular of our live-action re-imaginings. We look forward to a long run as audiences continue to enjoy this fantastic film.”
Everything I had read about the performances (Top Notch), the soundtrack (great), and the costuming (exceptionally great) was confirmed. There is even an acceptable backstory for how Cruella got so cruel, crafted by Dana Fox, Tony McNamara, Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marsel and Steve Zissin. My remark to my companion, as we left the theater, was that it was obvious there would be a sequel that would pick up where this film left off. And I was right.
Cruella is a 2021 American crime comedy film based on the character Cruella de Vil from Dodie Smith’s 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians and Walt Disney‘s 1961 animated film adaptation.
Unlike other films that have spun off from animated beginnings, this one seems to have more interest in developing sympathy for the devil that Cruella becomes (one of the many soundtrack choices from the Rolling Stones that is heard throughout the action). Audiences didn’t prefer the film versions of Disney offerings like “The Lion King” to the Disney animated pictures, but this one may be the exception to that rule. That song, by the way (“Sympathy for the Devil) released on November 1st, 1968, is but one of the many 70s punk songs like “These Boots Are Made for Walkin,’” “Time of the Season,” “Whole Lotta’ Love,” “Should I Stay Or Should I Go,” and on and on. The music is a large part of the success of the film.
COSTUMING & SETS
So are the fashions and with a $200 million budget, you see some over-the-top fashions. “Screen Rant” reports that the film is far pricier than most Disney re-imagined fare. Cruella’s production budget is reportedly $200 million, making it a very expensive endeavor. That price tag is higher than other Disney live-action re-imaginings like Aladdin ($183 million), Beauty and the Beast ($160 million), and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil ($185 million). Cruella’s budget is more in line with what one would expect from a tentpole comic book adaptation. Disney’s upcoming Black Widow also cost around $200 million to make.”
So, we have established that the soundtrack and costuming and make-up will scream “Oscar” in March.
What about the acting?
ACTING: Competent, as one would expect from the two Emmas (Stone and Thompson). Also doing good work are the supporting players, namely Joel Fry as Jasper and Paul Walter Hauser as Horace, with a stylish turn from John McRea as Artie and Billie Gadson as the 5-year-old Estella/Cruella. Mark Strong also has a pivotal role as John the valet, a role that reminds of something Stanley Tucci would play.
Set in 1970s London amidst the emergence of the punk rock movement, Cruella traces the trajectory of Estella (Stone), and the tragedies and ecstasies that mark her formative years. Her mother, Catherine (Emily Beecham) plays a seminal role in shaping her worldview. Despite being a loving and nurturing presence, Catherine often encourages Estella to “fit in” in order to stay out of trouble. Estella is viewed as somewhat different for her beautiful, black-and-white ombré hair and her rebellious nature. As Estella defends herself in talking about the mother/daughter relationship, “It wasn’t her I was challenging; it was the world.”
As the film progresses, our heroine (Emma Stone) declares, “I want to make art, and I want to make trouble.” At first, she is constrained by her loving mother (Emily Beecham) from realizing her full potential in either field. The pair then begin a journey to London, where Estella hopes to become a fashion designer.
Derailed along the way by circumstances beyond their control (“Happy accidents can change the whole course of your life…Happy may not be the right word.”), Estella ends up living and working in an abandoned building, alongside a couple of childhood grifters straight out of a Dickens novel, Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser).
One of the fast friends, Jasper (Joel Fry) submits an application for Estella to work at the Liberty House Fashion Firm that she so admires. That opens the door to frustration, followed by eventual fame and fortune when the Baroness (Emma Thompson)—THE arbiter of fashion in the swinging 70s scene— sees Estella’s potential and hires her to be her assistant, ripping off her originality and vision at every turn while lording it over the rest of society.
Using fantastic settings like the Tower of London (yes, THAT Tower of London) doesn’t hurt the film at all. Gorgeous mansions and even more gorgeous gowns are a treat for the eye.
As the plot thickens, Estella realizes, “I’m not sweet Estella, try as I might. I’m Cruella. Born bad and a little bit mad.” She adds, “People do need a villain to believe in, so I’m happy to fit the bill.”
We’ll be seeing a lot more of Cruella in future films, and I hope the films are as entertaining as this one was.