Cruella review: Disney's best live-action remake since 101 Dalmations
The movie arrives on Disney+ this week.
Ever since 2010's Alice In Wonderland, Disney have been making some serious bank with the live-action remake route to some of their classic fairytales. Remake also might not be the right word, as some of them are prequels or re-imaginings, but until someone creates an umbrella term for them all, we'll stick with remake.
Maleficent, Cinderella, The Jungle Book (kind of), Beauty and the Beast, Dumbo, Aladdin, and Mulan have all helped to rake in billions of dollars for Disney, with just one or two flops (the sequels to Alice In Wonderland and Maleficent, to be precise) spoiling an otherwise perfect run.
While they have all been beautifully created and fantastically acted, they have all felt more than a little safe. Perhaps recognising some risks needed to be taken (not huge risks, this is still Disney after all), the folks behind Cruella seem to have taken some notes from Maleficent - big name actress having a ball playing an acid-tongue meany with a hidden heart of gold - and run with it.
By also borrowing liberally from several other much-loved mean-spirited comedies - The Devil Wears Prada, Working Girl, Death Becomes Her - and pairing that with a duo of great central performances, Cruella ends up becoming the best live-action remake Disney have made to date.
By no means does that make it a perfect movie, though.
At 134 minutes, it feels at least 20 minutes too long, and there are several high-profile supporting characters that you feel could be excised entirely without any detriment to the movie whatsoever.
The plot kicks off in school, where we discover Estella (aka Young Cruella) was quite the disruptor from an early age, before a tragic accident left her living alone in the streets of London. She soon pairs up with two young pickpockets, who grow up to be Jasper (Joel Fry, the heart of the movie) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser, scene-stealer).
Not seeing much of a future for herself as a life-long thief, the now-all-grown Estella (Emma Stone) accepts a low-level job in a high-fashion outlet, run with an iron fist by The Baroness (Emma Thompson), who soon sees Estella's unique creativity and plans to exploit it for the gain of the company.
The aspiring fashion designer soon develops an alter-ego, Cruella, as a rival designer to The Baroness, while still working for her as Estella, and soon the two become entangled in an all-out war of one-upmanship.
Stone and Thompson are both having an absolute ball in their roles, chewing the scenery and spitting out their dialogue with tactical precision. They're surrounded by a production team that is firing on all cylinders, and we fully expect the Oscars to come knocking next year with nominations for make-up, costume, and production design. It is a gorgeous movie to look at, hyper-realistically envisioning 1970s London as a world where entire sections of the city can be reasonably blocked off for the sake of a decent gown.
The film begins to sag when extra characters are added to the mix, apparently for no reason other than to tie the story more securely to the 101 Dalmations tale, and by the end the plot has taken on one plot twist too many, with the final revelation being a bit of a dud.
But all the way up to that, there is plenty of dark humour to enjoy from the two Emmas battling it out for headline domination, and all set to an absolutely stomping (if at times obvious) soundtrack. Director Craig Gillispie has brought over a lot of the same twisted humour that made I, Tonya such a joy to watch, and it is surprising that he really didn't have to tone it down too much for this adaptation.
More like this please, Disney!
Cruella will be available on Disney+ with Premier Access from Friday, 28 May.
All clips via Disney Ireland