Devilishly fun and visually gorgeous, Cruella will reignite the thrill of being back at the movies.

Behind the fairy tale façade and contrary to popular belief, Walt Disney Productions have always had a dark side to their stories. Look no further than the vicious murder scene in The Lion King or that heart-breaking sequence that emotionally scarred every child who watched Bambi. Based on the 1961 Disney animation – One Hundred and One Dalmatians – followed by the 1996 live action film of the same name, Cruella is Disney in delicious dark mode. And that’s just the cream on top.

While the film works as a prequel to 101 Dalmatians, the real reason you are drawn in is the origins story of the titular character. I’m talking about villainous but also anti-hero type characters last seen in films like Joker or Disney’s own Maleficient. If you’re reading this and thinking ‘supervillain’ then we may be on to something and why this film is sensationally menacing, stylishly chaotic and visually gorgeous.

Set in 1970s London, the story begins with the birth of Estella, followed by a childhood strained with tragic events that make her a boisterous delinquent. But redeemed by the kindness of two pickpockets, the trio makes a living for themselves as petty thieves. Eventually, Estella lands a job in an upmarket fashion store but works as a janitor until she grabs the attention of the owner, known as Baroness. As the utterly fabulous queen of the London fashion scene, but also a narcissistic and spiteful boss who snatches credit from everyone else, Baroness becomes the catalytic spark that turns Estella into Cruella de Vil – a mysterious fashion terrorist hell bent on sabotaging and toppling the Baroness.

Up until this point, you could be mistaken into wondering who the real villain is. That is a divisive question that can split the audience into rooting for the Baroness or Cruella. Not a fair choice given both characters are immensely and impressively watchable. Emma Thompson as the Baroness is superbly sinister and icier than a similar role played by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Emma Stone as Cruella is refreshingly kinetic, with eye catching splendour armed with supervillain haute couture, and on par with the energy exuded by Cate Blanchett in Thor: Ragnarok. Their screen presence, the costumes and gowns they spite each other with, and the set design is amped up with an arsenal of no less than 37 rousing tracks that are period inspired from the 60s to the late 70s.

On the flip side, Cruella never delivers on the darkness it conveys. In this regard, and for the sake of pun placement, there is more bark than bite. That’s because the Cruella we meet here has never harmed a dog and has no intention to. The Dalmatian fur coat scene? It does happen and it’s a killer! So why Cruel-la? Because of her murderous instinct arising from a plot device that is better seen as a revelation rather than a twist. Either way you look at it, the last half-hour feels fluffy, with bits of slapstick moments that fit snug in a Johnny English film. But as a follow-up from the fiercely entertaining I, Tonya, director Craig Gillespie has a wild card with Cruella. Just don’t set your expectations too high and you’re in for a wildly entertaining, over-the-top high fashion, high mayhem drama that at the very least, should reignite the absolute thrill of being back at the movies again.



About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.