What was once old…is now new once again…
While the prequel vibe certainly didn’t fill this critic with confidence when first announced, Cruella (which premieres in select theatres and via Premium Access on the Disney+ service tomorrow) has just enough of an edge to it to really keep us engaged in what is ultimately a high energy romp that manages to straddle the line between kid fair and something that works for any age.
Set in 1970s London amidst the punk rock revolution, Cruella follows a young grifter named Estella (Emma Stone), a clever and creative girl determined to make a name for herself with her designs. She befriends a pair of young thieves who appreciate her appetite for mischief, and together they are able to build a life for themselves on the London streets. One day, Estella’s flair for fashion catches the eye of the Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), a fashion legend who is devastatingly chic and terrifyingly haute. But their relationship sets in motion a course of events and revelations that will cause Estella to embrace her wicked side and become the raucous, fashionable and revenge-bent Cruella.
Admittedly, Cruella is a piece of cinema that is just as busy as all hell from beginning to end…but that’s kind of part of its charm. Setting it in London in the thick of the punk boom allows the material to have some actual edge to it all which is hammered home by some fantastic performances from both Emma’s Stone and Thompson respectively.
To his credit, Craig Gillespie is not a director who is afraid to let style be his friend and on this one he manages to squeeze every drop out of the screen and on to our collective eyeballs.
This is movie is to put it simply…fun.
With an electric soundtrack and style for days, Cruella is aiming to be as high octane as it can be from an entertainment standpoint. The film just pops visually with the kind of style that perfectly encapsulates the era.
Quite a bit of that has to do with some off the charts production design that really takes us into another world. When we got to listen to Production Designer Fiona Crombie talk about the daunting nature of the shoot she had this to say…
You know, the film has great pace, and we sort of, we move around a lot, and there’s lots of little moments that are important moments that require different sets. And so we were very busy. There were, you know, 120-odd sets to-to do across the course of the shoot. And some of them are enormous. And some of them are tiny, like little rooms. But, um, I think one of the things that I’m most pleased about with the film is the level of detail in every single one of those sets. So it was just, I suppose I just feel like, you know, I’m making a movie at the moment. I’m like, “I’m not busy enough. What’s happened?”
And it’s like, “Oh, ’cause it’s of Cruella.” Like, that’s now, like, set the benchmark of, like, you know, how do I, like, block my day through, you know, 15-minute w-you know, I need to go here, I need to go here. This-this is all a bit-I’m a bit still at the moment, yeah.
The costumes in this film set such a pace when it comes to the tone and pacing of the movie and we can’t discount how important they all were.
With the fantastic Jenny Beaven in the lead the costumes were so incredibly unique and everyone had their own distinct style. Jenny actually had her formative years during these years and it was almost like going back in time for her while working on Cruella and she had this to say…
Yes, I’m afraid I’m very old. Um, I absolutely remember it, because it was that time after college when I was just beginning to work in theater. Not film at all. I-I really wanted to be a set designer. And, um, uh, and I obviously just, beginning to earn a tiny bit of money, and I’m looking around, and, I mean, it was really interesting how you’re-you kind of forget things. And then you do something like Cruella and it starts to all come back.
But the best moment, that very first day outside Liberty’s, oh my god, when I looked at the crowd and it was like, “Oh, I had one of those. Oh my god. You know, that’s what we looked like. And actually, it was really fun.
As much as this film had style for days with a soundtrack that you couldn’t help but dance to, this could have easily fallen apart but director Craig Gillespie really had a sense of the characters of the piece and the importance of the villains, not just in this story but in general; especially since Cruella had such a unique tone to it all. Craig had this to say, not just about mastering the tone of the villains, but the shades of grey that they have to play in.
Um, well, I mean, villains are always so fun to portray, because you-you just have, you know, more license to, uh, to do things that aren’t quite appropriate or push the boundaries, and, uh, create these larger-than-life characters.
And I just-it was really important to me that this was not a black and white kind of story. Obviously no pun intended there with Cruella. But I wanted there to be this gray area and be able to empathize with the choices that she was making. And, uh, and the-and the situations that she was res-you know, sort of, um, the situations that she was res-you know, sort of, um, the situations that she was responding to. And I wanted to do it in a way that was really fun.
Ultimately, so much of this comes down to the casting in a film like this and with the Emma’s (both Stone and Thompson) this film was in exceptionally good hands.
It all works because for a Disney film…this is actually pretty dark and it isn’t afraid to lean into that. Emma Stone as our one and only Cruella was asked about this and both her and Dame Emma Thompson as the Baroness who is new to this universe had quite a bit to say…
ES: I mean, they really let, Craig and Tony kind of write and make what they wanted to make. And, um, I don’t know, I think it’s-it’s-it’s definitely dark for a Disney movie. Maybe not for, like, a-a really intense kind of R-rated film, but yeah, it was-it was darker than I’ve seen a Disney movie for a good long time.
ET: I-I had such fun doing her, because I-I think I’ve been asking for quite a number of years if I could be a villain, a proper villain.
And I spent decades playing what my mother used to call, “Good women in frocks.” And, um, now I got to play a really evil woman in frocks. But oh, boy, the frocks. I mean, they wore me, actually, really is what happened. Uh, I had just the best, best time. Um, and-and every time Em and I would come on set, we’d just look at each other and walk around each other, like we were-like we were sculptures or works of art or something, which we were. I mean, it was in a way, everyone created the Baroness, and then I sort of stepped in and just said the words. [LAUGHS]
While both Stone and Thompson played off of each other in a glorious pas de deux of performances there’s also no denying that the strong supporting ensemble which featured the likes of Joel Fry, Mark Strong and the consistently underrated Paul Walter Hauser did great work in support of these two magnificent screen ladies who took great pleasure in chewing up the scenery at every turn.
At the end of the day, we can’t blame you of being suspect of Cruella, at least a little bit because we all have the remake, prequel, reboot fatigue that is rife through Hollywood these days. But we’re happy to report that Cruella will beat you into the submission of enjoyment and it works perfectly at the premium price tag at home via Disney+ or in the theatres where available.