Set in London in the 1970s, Cruella focuses on the backstory of the woman who becomes Cruella DeVil, the villain in the beloved children’s story, 101 Dalmatians. This Disney film is the origin story of Cruella DeVil. Beautifully costumed, creatively re-interpreting characters from the much-loved two previous 101 Dalmatians films, we are treated to a prequel like none this reviewer ever expected.
Estella Miller (the outstanding Emma Stone), is an aspiring fashion designer, orphaned and relegated to being a street grifter with two boys in a Dickensian survival-of-the-smartest. As she is determined to pull no punches to achieve her dream, Estella will become Cruella by the end of the film.
Treated very poorly by the unparalleled fashion designer, Baroness von Hellman (played brilliantly by Emma Thompson), Estella/Cruella plots to gain recognition from the Baroness and then to take over her empire. The dueling competition over who is the greatest fashionista of all is immensely entertaining. Somewhat surprisingly, however, the darker tones of two women who have lost family and now feel so unloved, delve deep into nuances of character that are very adult psychological themes.
Baroness, as a child, was humiliated in dreaming of a world of fashion. Now she does the same to Estella. The two are mirror-images of each other, but Estella has yet to realize that. This is the emotional centerpiece of the film.
Part Ocean’s Eleven for the heist during the Baroness’s fashion gala, and part Joker for the torment and trauma that morphs Estella into Cruella, this is not your typical Disney movie. There is something for everyone. The young viewer will enjoy the breathtaking staging. Sumptuous costumes and Joker-like makeup are performances in their own right. For adults, we see vulnerability in both characters being crushed. What an origin story!
Without a doubt Cruella is the very best of the Disney live-action dramas, not merely an engaging snow globe of entertainment, and it will likely become a classic. Cruella is definitely a DeVil’s Delight!
Note: Some children under the age of ten may not be comfortable with the intensity of certain scenes and unexpected behavior. They might end up watching a few action scenes through their fingers. My two granddaughters, ages six and eight, who watched this movie with me for the second time, loved it! So did I –but for some very different reasons, I’m sure.