Review: The Pairing of Director Craig Gillespie and Emma Stone Make 'Cruella' a Devilish Delight

by Kevin Taft

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday June 25, 2021

Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney's live-action 'Cruella'
Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney's live-action 'Cruella'  (Source:Laurie Sparham)

Disney has finally hit one of its live action prequels out of the park with the Emma Stone starrer "Cruella." Whether this is a true prequel to the Glenn Close films (doubtful, with the setup of the Darlings in this film) or simply a villain origin story that can lead to future tales, will probably depend on its success. And from what I see, this one should go bonkers at the box-office/Disney+.

While the trailers are intriguing, they really don't give you a sense of the feel of the film. When you remember that "Cruella" is directed by "I, Tonya" director Craig Gillespie, you immediately understand what you are in for. It's fast-paced, sardonic, clever, stylish, and all-around entertaining ride that is one of the darker films Disney has put out.

What's great here is that we do sort of feel for Estella (Emma Stone), an orphaned, street-wise thief who starts to come into her own working for a boutique clothing store in '70s London. The store is owned by "The Baroness," who is played by Emma Thompson; Estrella soon catches The Baroness' eye, and is swooped into her fashion Haus, where Estella begins to design for her.

Emma soon becomes a part of the art and fashion world, surrounding herself with her thieving friends Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), as well as gender-bending Artie ("Everyone's Talking About Jamie" stage star John McCrea). But when The Baroness shows her true colors, a war between the two is on, and Estella's alter-ego - "Cruella" - is born.

Many have thought this would be sort of a Disney-fied version of "The Devil Wears Prada," and while there are hints of it, this story goes in a number of other gleefully wicked directions, all set to a booming '70s soundtrack that truly makes this the hippest Disney film yet.

Stone is terrific here, stealing the show in every scene. While she certainly can play the audience's sympathies, Gillespie is a master at making us care for less-than-likable people, while still keeping them nasty and dark. (Didn't we love Margot Robbie's Tonya Harding while still finding her to be a nasty human being? And didn't we also feel a little bit bad for her?) Gillespie aces this delicate dance, letting us enjoy Estella's antics and root for her, while also knowing that, if her story gets a sequel or two, that girl is going to go very, very dark.

Thompson, as much as I hate to say it, is the weaker link here. She's never bad, it's just that the character is almost downplayed too much. There are lines of dialogue that could have been deliciously delivered, and instead they are fitfully amusing and lack bite. Someone like Joanna Lumley ("AbFab") would have been perfection here. It's a quibble for sure, but I wanted a bigger match-up and a Meryl Streep turn by Thompson. And because we know she excels in everything, perhaps she was directed to tone it down. Regardless, this in no way takes away from the enjoyment of the film.

All the character actors on display are terrific as well, but the real stars of the show (aside from the Emmas) are the gorgeous sets, the dazzling costumes, and the perfectly placed, rocking soundtrack. (Please put it on vinyl!) I smell Oscar nominations all around!

Here's hoping that Gillespie is on board for another round with Ms. DeVil. Their pairing is an absolutely devilish delight!

"Cruella" is available digitally today

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.