Cruella review: Two Emmas battle for the best villain title in the most fashionable way

Cruella. (PHOTO: Disney)
Emma Stone as a young Cruella de Vil. (PHOTO: Disney)

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Length: 134 minutes
Director: Craig Gillespie
Cast: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser
Release details: In theatres from 27 May; sneaks on 26 May; or order it on
Disney+ with premier access from 28 May

4 out of 5 stars

In Disney’s 1961 animated film, 101 Dalmatians, the iconic character of Cruella de Vil was first introduced to the world. The film was followed up by two live-action films starring award-winning actress Glenn Close as the fur-loving baddie. Cruella is currently Disney’s third live-action instalment in the 101 Dalmatians franchise, starring Emma Stone as the witty and fashion-loving Cruella de Vil.

Set in the vibrant punk era of ’70s London, director Craig Gillespie - known for his works, I, Tonya and Fright Night - frames the journey of a non-conforming young girl named Estella (Stone) through the capital city’s rock and fashion evolution.

Following a childhood tragedy, Estella befriends Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (Joel Fry), who thrust her into an early life of crime on the streets, pulling con jobs and using her imagination and sewing skills to create a brilliant array of disguises. An opportunity finally knocks for Estella when Jasper gets her a job working at London’s most fashionable department store, Liberty. However, Estella soon finds her world turning upside down when she goes up against fashion designer Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson).

Cruella. (PHOTO: Disney)
Emma Thompson as Baroness von Hellman. (PHOTO: Disney)

This is when things get wickedly fun: we watch two Emmas wreaking havoc on screen while being notoriously fashionable, thanks to Oscar-winning Mad Max: Fury Road costumer designer Jenny Beavan.

Coupled with a stellar OST rock and roll soundtrack, the Emmas were fitted with a dazzling array of costumes, from militarised jackets and suits to silk gowns and massive layers of tulle while stomping through the fashionable capital city, while carrying out their scheming plots. Outfits from Chanel, Louis Vuitton, John Galliano and Gabriela Hearst also briefly appear throughout the film. They say clothes make women, and the Emmas deliver sensational performances as transgressive villains with their fashion choices.

Cruella. (PHOTO: Disney)
Estella's friends, Horace (Joseph MacDonald) and Jasper (Ziggy Gardner). (PHOTO: Disney)

Emma Stone starts off by delivering the reactions of a startlingly innocuous young woman, who then gets in touch with her venal side to show us the gloriously vengeful Cruella, like an antithetical mirror image.

Emma Thompson – whose role is highly similar to Meryl Streep's Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada – is splendid in her performance as the rude, manipulative and highly demanding haute couturier Baroness von Hellman. Nothing can stop her – and her job – even if it involves stepping all over people, just like what Priestly did to her trusted colleague in the fashion rom-com. See what the movie did there?

Visually, the film was made for aesthetic enjoyment; although we've not been able to travel due to the pandemic and countries are imposing border closures, viewers can 'travel' through London's gritty charm and be reminded of the city's timeless architecture. I know I did.

The film is wickedly entertaining, dark and so un-Disney-like. Despite its long-running time, the action really kicks in in the second half of the movie as we see two 'queens' vie for the villain title - whatever it takes. And I'm calling it now – costume and design, as well as production design, will get Oscar noms in 2022.

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