In theaters and on Disney+ Premiere Access Disney’s “Cruella” is the live action origin story of the notorious villain who would grow up to hunt down 101 Dalmatian coats. Although Cruella has appeared on screen in animation in 1961 and, most iconically, as portrayed by Glenn Close in 1996. This Cruella starts as Estella, an orphaned outcast in 1970s London seeking to make a name for herself in the fashion world.
Estella (Emma Stone) begins life as a merely rebellious child with skunk like hair dreaming of becoming a fashion designer. After the sudden and bizarre death of her mother, she makes her way to London and falls it with other orphans stealing to make their way. Ten years later she stops thieving to work in a glamorous department store, only to find herself scrubbing floors. Estella is scooped up by the fashion designer Baroness Von Hellman (Emma Thompson), who quickly makes an enemy of the reborn Cruella.
“Cruella” isn’t a good movie, per se, but it is still quite fun. The first hour is the closest to a Disney movie. Emma Stone as Estella is quirky and chaotic in a way fit to the music and style of the film. After a transformation into Cruella, Emma Stone goes all out in a way that teeters between over the top and parody. The writing does a lot of back flips to justify why the likable Estella would grow up to become a would-be puppy killer, but the character stills ends up totally unhinged. This Cruella feels like Disney’s PG response to Harley Quinn.
Despite the sheer madness of most of this movie, it is a shockingly enjoyable watch. The costume and production design is pretty spectacular, and the Disney budget means that the soundtrack of 60s and 70s classics is just what you would hope for. If “Cruella” starred any less than Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, it would probably be laughable or completely cringe worthy, but they make the campy dialogue and big reveals feel more like the film is in on the joke.
“Cruella” is an outrageous PG-rated cross between “Knives Out” and “Birds of Prey” masquerading as a Disney villain origin story. It’s completely ridiculous and falls apart if you think too much about what you are watching, but a good use of a Friday night.