Review | Cruella | 2021
Just when it seemed like the idea of Disney live action remakes/reimaginings had gone completely creatively bankrupt, along comes Craig Gillespie's Cruella, a surprisingly nimble origin story for infamous 101 Dalmatians villain, Cruella DeVil. While Maleficent (2014), and its sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019), sought to upend its source material's narrative by turning its villain into the hero, Cruella takes a different approach, not trying to justify her evil deeds as much as explain them - giving her a Devil Wears Prada-esque origin story that pits the aspiring fashionista and budding villain Estella (Emma Stone) against a ruthless, established fashion designer (Emma Thompson) in a battle for dominance of the London fashion scene.
Nevertheless, it's difficult not to like a film that allows Emma Stone and Emma Thompson to chew the scenery in this way. Glenn Close may forever be the definitive live-action Cruella, but there's a certain delight to be had in watching these two world class actresses having the time of their lives as two cutthroat fashionistas willing to do anything it takes to be number one, even if that means leaving a few dead bodies in their wake. It's all surprisingly dark for a Disney film, but one has to give credit to Gillespie, who made an unsympathetic character like Tonya Harding so complex and nuanced in I, Tonya, for humanizing Cruella without excusing her actions.
Stone is terrific in the role, but its Thompson who steals the show, managing to channel both Meryl Streep's Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada and Daniel Day-Lewis' Reynolds Woodcock from Phantom Thread into a new, deliciously megalomaniacal creation. Come for the lead performances, stay for the sumptuous costumes by Jenny Beavan that seem to top themselves in each subsequent scene. It ultimately may not be reinventing the wheel, but Gillespie manages to breathe enough new life into Disney's live action remake formula with some stylistic tweaks and a darker, more grown up tone that is a consistent pleasure to watch. It may not be punk rock, its Disney for chrissakes, but I'll take this over their dreary shot for shot remakes of animated classics like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King any day.