Read on for my Cruella review, Disney’s latest live action film:
Cruella is an outrageous, fun, campy movie with a killer soundtrack – and one major flaw.
I will admit I did not have high hopes going into Cruella. The trailers looked over-the-top and while I didn’t read reviews ahead of time I heard from a few people who had seen it early and were just kind of “meh” about it. I have to say I really enjoyed it more than I expected to – it was over-the-top, cheesy, and campy, but in a way that I really enjoyed and got into. The soundtrack was awesome, the acting was excellent, and there were some great moments of both laughter and suspense.
However, there was one major flaw with this film which I will get into more below which has me enjoying it less than I hoped. I love the movie as an entertainment experience in the moment, but I can’t really think about it too much or everything falls apart.
The biggest issue with Cruella
Giving a known Disney villain an origin story can be tricky to get right, as we’ve seen in various books and movies. I was intrigued how they would approach this one because Cruella is a universally hated villain. Her main M.O. in the original movie is to kill and skin puppies to make a coat, so I don’t know that a sympathetic backstory works here. But that’s the giant question that I think many Disney fans had going into this movie, isn’t it – how could someone be evil enough to want to kill innocent puppies with no remorse?
And the biggest issue with this movie is that question never gets answered. Cruella actually likes dogs and has one that is her constant companion. While she has a bad history with Dalmatians specifically she says in a voiceover that she doesn’t blame the dogs (and even when she has an opportunity to do something sinister to a group of Dalmatians – like turn them into a coat – she ultimately does not). Does Cruella become a bit of a psycho and do some pretty awful things in this movie? Yes. Does she show any inclination for wanting to kill puppies? No.
To me it kind of felt like trying to cash in on a well known name and brand by calling this Cruella. Aside from throwing in her iconic hair, a few Dalmatians, and some 101 Dalmatians references it could have been a movie about anyone.
There are two approaches this movie could have taken. One, to make a sympathetic character who turned into a villain for revenge purposes and not be about Cruella at all. Or two, to make the character evil and not sympathetic and all and explain why she is that way. I just don’t think you can create a character who is a sympathetic puppy killer.
Disney needed to go further with this and they did not. It felt like we were really close – the madness seemed to be getting her and revenge consumed her. It looked like the descent was happening and then for some reason we backtracked.
This Cruella, while still being pretty horrible in many ways, was not evil enough to feel like the Cruella we know. Make her evil, or make her completely insane. I’ve seen this work with other versions of Cruella’s character, like in Once Upon a Time or the book Evil Thing. They could even have had her be a more sympathetic figure in her younger years but then change so much that we accept she’s evil enough to kill puppies. Emma Stone is fantastic but her Cruella is not that level of evil.
Characters and acting in Cruella
Okay, let’s get onto the positives because overall I had a lot of fun watching this movie. The acting is awesome, though I guess that’s to be expected when your leads as Emma Stone and Emma Thompson. I think Emma Stone did a great job essentially playing two roles – the more sympathetic though still underhanded Estella, and the more evil Cruella. Flaws in her character are more due to how it was written than her performance. As I mentioned above I think Disney was trying to do too much with this movie and make Cruella into multiple things that didn’t work together.
Emma Thompson is fantastically evil. She is so good at it that you really hate her character, who is one of the most self-centered, diabolical, uncaring people we’ve seen on screen. To be totally honest, I almost expected there to be a big twist in the movie that tells us the Baroness actually takes over the “role” of Cruella and she’s the actual villain from the 101 Dalmatians movie. Emma Stone’s character is just a bit too sympathetic to get there. Emma Thompson’s character, on the other hand… you’d have no problem believing she would kill and skin puppies to make a coat.
Horace and Jasper are given more of a role in this movie than just the bumbling villain sidekicks and I thought Paul Walter Hauser and Joel Fry were great. Hauser was a bit more of the comic relief, though he also showed a sweet, emotional side. I really liked what they did with Fry’s character of Jasper though. Yeah, he’s spent his whole life as a street thief, but he’s smart and very perceptive. He also clearly values the “family” he’s formed with Horace and Cruella and we see a lot of conflict from him about some of the things that Cruella is doing which he feels is going too far. I thought Fry captured that really well even when there wasn’t dialogue involved – you could tell by his face how he felt about certain things. I would gladly take a whole comedic heist movie about Horace and Jasper!
The music was very tied into the film and for me it completely worked. There are a ton of classic songs from the time period played throughout, from “Feeling Good” to “One Way or Another” to “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” The lyrics match up with the events and feelings happening in the movie at each moment, and while it’s definitely cheesy I thought it was cheesy in a really fun way. It was absolutely a highlight for me and just fit the vibe of the film and matched the aesthetics really well.
That being said, the score was excellent in its own right. I can tend to get super into the plot the first time I see a movie and not acknowledge much of the score and its impact until a second viewing, but I could feel the music really heightening the mood in many scenes. Especially some moments of suspense, where you feel it building to something, the music definitely helped that mood along.
The feel of the film
Speaking of that mood, overall I really liked the feel of the movie… once we actually got into it. Cruella is 134 minutes long and frankly it doesn’t need to be – the opening sequences are very, very drawn out before we really get into the story. There is a lot of background and unnecessary detail that could have been cut to make the movie feel a bit tighter.
After about the first 40 minutes though we really get into it and I was hooked from there (I was checking my watch every 10 minutes of so previously and then didn’t really look at it again until I really had to pee and was trying to judge if it was worth going or waiting). It’s suspenseful in just the right spots and gives some hints towards things that might happen, but not enough to make it overly predictable.
And as I mentioned earlier a good portion of this movie is campy as anything. There is outrageous shows with two psycho fashion designers continually trying to one up each other and get revenge. The scenes of Cruella showing up to all of the fashion shows with some sort of crazy entrance and outfit, insane makeup, with 70s music blasting was just marvelous. So much fun. I think I would have been a lot happier if that was the focus on the movie! Jason said he felt like this is what The Devil Wears Prada should have been.
So why does Cruella hate Dalmatians?
Spoilers included in the answer to this question, of course, so skip this one if you plan to make the movie but don’t want to know ahead of time.
So we get this answer fairly early on in the movie, and I believe when it happened I audibly said “what” out loud in the theater. Because if you were a writer and wanted to make the most cliché choice possible, you would probably say “let’s have Cruella hate Dalmatians because a group of them killed her mother when she was a child.” Yup, seriously.
Of course the story itself is much more complex and interesting than that, but there’s your Dalmatians tie-in. I don’t even know that you needed to have Cruella target Dalmatians in particular – in the original movie she’s just obsessed with making a fur coat. A better route would have been to have Estella become so obsessed with succeeding at her fashion design that she would do literally anything, and ultimately have it drive her insane. But hey, I didn’t write the script.
I personally also got really hung up on how the movie made these dogs out to be pretty terrible. As far as I know Dalmatians aren’t blood hungry murderers and it rubbed me the wrong way to see them portrayed that way. I realize the idea is more that they were trained to be this way, but it was still somewhat uncomfortable, at least for me.
Is Cruella okay for kids?
It’s clear that this was not a movie made with kids in mind. That being said, depending on the child and their age the may enjoy it and be fine with this movie. The PG-13 rating is there mostly for violence (no language that I recall and there’s no romance either so nothing inappropriate in that regard). There is one scene where Estella is drinking and ultimately passes out from it. Depending on the kid (or person!) I think it definitely has some scary moments.
While there’s never blood or gore, there are some scenes where we see people killed or abused. Some of these moments are definitely scary or suspenseful. There is a scene where a building is set on fire with people (and dogs) in it. Cruella sees her mother murdered. While things aren’t shown in graphic detail a lot of it feels very intense. It’s dark, the music is creepy, and there might be a little bit of fear about what could happen next. I might just be overly sensetitive, but there was one scene where Estella designed a gown for the Baroness to wear which looked like it was made of gold. In reality the dress was made of moth eggs and they all burst and flew around in a big swarm. That’s the kind of thing that really gives me the heebie jeebies!
I think it’s also important to keep in mind that many of the acts of violence, theft, and even murder are done with little to no remorse. These are villains, but Cruella (when she is Estella) is shown to be sympathetic enough to blur the lines there a little bit about what’s right and wrong.
I think some older kids will handle this one fine, while more sensitive children may not. Even with a 9pm showing there were a good number of kids in the theater when I saw it. There’s a lot of humor in the film too and we could tell the kids were enjoying those parts a lot. Like any movie, you know your child best – if they can handle violence and suspense they will probably be okay. I might talk after about the choices some of the characters made and why… both to make sure they understand some of the complexities of the themes but also because it could be a very interesting discussion!
Is there is a post credits scene?
There is one post-credits scene fairly on in the credits featuring Anita and Roger. It’s a little bit of a headscratcher in terms of what it’s trying to say… I’ve seen speculation that it might be setting up for a live action 101 Dalmatians set in this time period. That might not be terrible but I’d still rather see Horace and Jasper get their own movie.
Is Cruella worth paying for?
This is the first movie I’d seen in a theater in over a year. I know some people prefer being at home now to watch movies, but I really thought this one was a good theater choice. It’s a “big” movie in the sense that it’s very vibrant and overdramatic, so I thought the big screen and the surround sound worked well. The more suspenseful parts definitely felt more intense with those speakers too.
You can also get this on Disney+ with premiere access, which means it’s $30. Is it worth $30 for your family or however much for theater tickets? For us as only 2 people the theater was the easy choice as we spent about $22. Regardless I am very glad we went and paid for it so I think it’s worth it. Really I believe it comes down to the type of movies you like – if you’re looking for something that’s very Disney-inspired and ties in a lot to the original story you’re not going to find that here. But if you’re looking for a fun movie that’s campy, a little creepy, and a little crazy, you’ll want to see this.
Overall I’ll give it 4 stars out of 5 for the entertainment value. I had a really good time watching it, but ultimately it was trying to do too much and didn’t tie into the titular character as we know her, which makes it feel a little bit like a money grab in that sense.
Have you seen this movie yet? Do you agree with my Cruella review?