Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

When it was announced that Disney was doing a live-action film about Cruella de Vil, the infamous villain of 101 Dalmatians, a clear line was drawn with two opposing sides. There were those who were excited to see Disney exploring the origins of another one of their villains, but others who were concerned with humanizing a character that fantasized about skinning puppies. This Friday will now see the release of CRUELLA and the new approach taken to one of Disney’s most controversial characters.

CRUELLA takes the viewer through the origins of how Estella became Cruella, one of the most notorious villains in film history. The beginning of the film introduces us to Estella in a dynamic sequence that will keep viewers glued to the screen but also giving insight into the bullying she receives from fellow students. Tipper Seifer-Cleveland plays young Estella and does a fantastic job of not only being charming and rebellious but also showing brief glimpses of pain behind her eyes.

Even with a rebellious streak, which causes her mother to give her the nickname of Cruella, Estella is a young girl curious about life. But like all Disney movies, a tragedy occurs causing Estella to go on the run. Here she meets Horace and Jasper, a pair of young thieves who bring Estella into their fold. Through time, an unlikely friendship forms between the three of them, as well as Estella’s dog, Buddy. But as time progresses, Estella’s desire to be a fashion designer grows. When given the opportunity to explore her calling, she catches the eye of fashion legend, Baroness von Hellman (played with PERFECTION by Emma Thompson). And it’s here where the battle of the baddest begins in the most extraordinary of ways.

Let’s get something out of the way first. If your concern is that there is going to be animal cruelty, you have nothing to worry about. That said, Director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya, 2011’s Fright Night) toes a fine line in pushing the boundaries of a Disney film. Gillespie did a superb job of crafting an ominous, dark tone that left the viewer feeling like anything could unfold. I, as a horror fan, appreciated that immensely because it kept me on my toes. Dealing with a villain who has a fantasy for killing and skinning puppies to make a coat is…. questionable at best. That said, I liked that Disney allowed Gillespie the space to work on a new approach with Cruella’s story. Ultimately, for this critic, it paid off.

Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo by Laurie Sparham. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved.

As for the cast, my god. Emma Stone isn’t playing around when it comes to her performance as Estella/Cruella. Though my one critique would be the way in which she pronounced her own name. There was something off about how it sounded as if it was being forced to sound more exotic than it is. However, the biggest surprise, for me, was how much I initially underestimated the Baroness, who is an absolute villainous powerhouse. Emma Thompson completely owns the role and brings to life a character that’ll you hate to love. Hands down, Thompson’s Baroness is one of the most delightful and devilish parts of the film.

As for the supporting characters, Horace (played by Paul Walter Hauser) is clearly the comic relief and had me in stitches with his ridiculous one-liners and wacky antics, especially when hanging out with his best one-eyed dog friend, Wink (who I would lay down my life for). Jasper (played by Joel Fry) is also a blast and follows much of Horace’s antics, but has a much sweeter and gentler approach, especially when it comes to handling Estella/Cruella. Per usual, Mark Strong is great but I would have loved to have seen more of him in the film due to his character feeling a bit too underutilized. Another delightful addition to the cast is Artie, played by John McCrea, who befriends Estella when she comes to his vintage clothing shop. He encompasses the ‘1970s androgynous look with a hard slant towards the style of Bowie and wears some truly iconic pieces throughout the films.

Speaking of the wardrobe, it’s perfection. Even if you find yourself not liking the movie, you can’t deny that the production design and clothing are anything less than stunning. The film is a never-ending runway for some of the most gorgeous, inventive, and unique pieces I’ve seen in some time. Due to the animosity and competitiveness that forms between Cruella and the Baroness, they are constantly one-upping each other with everything becoming bigger and more elaborate, giving the audience a feast for the eyes. I don’t want to give any exciting moments away but wait until you see the presentation that comes forth from a garbage truck.

CRUELLA is going to become iconic. The presentation of the film, through the production design, music, and wardrobe, should be enough to get anyone to see this film. Does the film humanize a character that many believe to be a villain? You could say that. But that’s the most interesting part of the film. Not only is CRUELLA a fashion designer’s paradise, it’s an extravagant and entertaining film that also challenges us to look at people in shades of gray, because not everything is as black and white as Cruella’s hair.

CRUELLA will release simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access for a one-time additional fee on Friday, May 28th.

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