‘Cruella’ brings the origin story of the infamous fashionable villain—sans the fur

Published May 31, 2021, 11:35 AM

by John Legaspi

SCREENCRUNCH: Disney’s latest live action flick introduces Estella, the woman who would become the dalmatian spots-obsessed fashion designer Cruella

Emma Stone as Cruella

Making a statement, that is what the infamous villain Cruella de Vil is all about in Disney’s latest live action movie, aptly titled “Cruella.” It’s her destiny, whether it is with her two-toned hair or through her rebellious sartorial creations.

Hailing from the 1956 novel “The Hundred and One Dalmatians” by Dodie Smith, Cruella, being the fur-obsessed fashionista, was first a wife of a wealthy furrier. But it was in 1996 when actress Glenn Close portrayed the character that Cruella became known as a fashion magnate and the leader of the haute couture house, “House of De Vil.”

In the 2021 prequel movie “Cruella,” viewers are introduced to Estella, an aspiring fashion designer, the woman before Cruella came to be. After a tragic incident, the young Estella met a couple of misfits and dyed her hair burgundy, hiding her black and white tresses to be seen as normal. Though she became a thief at first, the redhead girl never gave up on her goal to be the toast of London’s fashion scene. Her journey to that started when she met the ultra glamorous and narcissistic fashion giant of the time, Baroness von Hellman.

Directed by Craig Gillespie, “Cruella” could easily become Disney’s ultimate fashion film thanks to the works of Oscar-winning costume designer Jenny Beavan. But what truly sets it apart is its anti-hero plot. Compared to Disney’s other live action villain origin film “Maleficent,” there is no misconception or confusion about the character Cruella. The film sets the record straight, she is mad—and passionate—through and through. Viewers can “sew” for themselves what happens to the character, from the moment the prequel ends to Glenn’s 1996 performance.

Emma Stone’s performance is remarkable, giving us a great depiction of the difference between underdog Estella and her alter ego Cruella. You’ve got to admit, it takes a good plot and a great actress to make anyone love a character for being bad, and Emma took us there. Equally marvelous is Emma Thompson as the Baroness, portraying one perfect fashion caricature, a stereotype created by the people who are not in the industry.

Emma Thompson as Baroness von Hellman

Its soundtrack is definitely one of the driving forces of the movie’s story, adding a sense of kitsch to some of the movie’s heist scenes, and energy and drama whenever the two fashion designers have a dogfight.

Speaking of canines, no dalmatians were harmed during the filming of the movie thanks to modern CGI. While the movie hit the nail on the head when it comes to the style decorum of the era, one thing it took note of from today’s fashion scene is the statement that “fur is out of style,” as pointed out by New York Times’ fashion critic Vanessa Friedman.

Although it gains many points in style, its insider’s view of fashion house dynamics, stellar casting, and rocking music, the film could do more on the drama. But of course, it is Disney, and diving deep into the characters’ dark psychology would call for the studios’ unwanted age restriction on viewers. Some of the movie’s predictable turns as chip off some points as well.

Nevertheless, “Cruella,” with its good plot and visual splendor, could pass as Disney’s best live action remake/retelling so far. It presents not a deranged, eccentric lady, but a woman filled with ambition. For that, we give it a 3.5 out of 5.