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3 1/2 Stars

Cruella (2021)

It wasn’t the hair. It wasn’t the look. It wasn’t even the fact that dogs may get killed.

Around the age of five, what got me scared right off the bat of Cruella De Vil was simply that she seemed to always be yelling. Even when she was not upset (which was rare), she was at a high volume.

I remember distinctly toward the end of the animated film, there is a brief glimpse of the fur loving crazy lady driving so intensely that, just for a second, she drives toward the audience with eyes that still give a bit of a tingle to me nowadays (as a kid, I would pause that scene and just stare at it until I got over my fear).

In other words, I still feel Cruella (who was supposedly based off of the legendary actress Tallulah Bankhead) is the best of the Disney baddies.

Admittedly, I was not sure how to feel when I heard an origin story of the character was in the works, especially since I am against all but a few of the live-action remakes from the mouse house that I have seen. In fact, one of the very first ones was back in 1996 when the character was played by Glenn Close (who serves as an executive producer on this film). Yet, for a fair amount of reasons, the film Cruella does manage to pull off being one of the few live-action Disney films of recent years that actually does not damage the original.

Like most main characters in the mouse house film library, young Cruella (who is born as Estella) suffers the death of a parent, and is left to fend for herself. Thankfully, she does find some form of solace in the form of new friends Jasper and Horace. Fast forward ten years, and the young Estella (Emma Stone) is forced to go with Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) to resort to petty crimes as she has had to put the identity of “Cruella” behind her (despite being born with the iconic yin-yang style hair, she has resorted to hair dye and a wig). She dreams of being a fashion designer, and soon finds herself working under the best in the business, the Baroness (Emma Thompson).

There are a couple other films that this movie is drawing inspiration from (including a brief moment from The Terminator). There are even moments where the movie had elements of the old Hannah Montana show (at least when it comes to wigs). Undoubtably, the movie that this film draws most inspiration from is The Devil Wears Prada, and there are times when I was waiting to see if Stanley Tucci would appear on screen (even though Mark Strong fills that role well here.)

The key factors to this film working are the performances. Emma Stone is indeed able to pull off being able to find some form of humanity in a character we never thought had any, despite the horrific things she does. However, it is the other Emma the audience must be on the look out for. The Baroness indeed seems to be the spiritual sister of Miranda Priestly, and while no other actress could play this role better than Meryl Streep did in Prada, Thompson is still clearly having a blast in the role. One may even go so far as to call the performance delicious.

Shout outs should also go to Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser as the sidekicks. In years past, the characters had seemed to be too much on the idiotic side. Here, there are moments where that is still evident, but they have a bit more depth to them.

Parents, the film actually has legit reasons for being PG-13, as it is one of the more darker live-action films Disney has done in years. There are some bad words heard, but nothing more than a child of nine or so would have heard before. It is the overall thematic material that makes this a somewhat gentler PG-13, but PG-13 never the less.

One of the reasons the film seems darker is definitely the soundtrack. The songs in the film include bands such as The Doors, Deep Purple, Blondie, Queen, and Supertramp. While I admit to not being the most knowledgeable in terms of music, I still felt that the songs worked (for the most part) when it came to setting the tone of the film (along with a solid score from Nicholas Britell).

Cruella may not be everyone’s cup of tea (its biggest flaw is that it is too long), but the overall product is certainly much more of an original take of its source material than the likes of Aladdin, Dumbo, and The Lion King.

You can take my word on that, dahling.

Overall:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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