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Review: Disney’s ‘Cruella’ (2021)

Podcast Editor Matthew Seaman reviews Disney’s 2021 “Cruella”.

Emma Stone’s cool coldness makes for an endearing “Cruella” in this fashionable and classy prequel. The essence of this Craig Gillespie film is stylish, and works to give ‘evil’ a good name.

It would be criminal for me to not observe the filmic brilliance of the opening sequences. Mirroring the fast-paced introductory action of Gillespie’s earlier work, “I, Tonya”, these moments of exposition are underpinned by some classic hits. Disney clearly invested in making this soundtrack an unforgettable one, with The Rolling Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow” accompanying the young Estella’s transition into her older-self. Throughout the film, we are treated to the likes of Electric Light Orchestra, David Bowie, The Zombies and Supertramp, with an original track performed by Florence and The Machine. My girlfriend and I have always bonded over the fact that these kind of soundtracks help render older, legendary tracks more accessible to younger people. “I, Tonya” accomplished the same thing, with other notable mentions being Netflix’s “After Life”, “13 Reasons Why” and “The End of the F**king World”, shows that all allowed us a perspective into musical history.

Emma Stone is Cruella / 2021

Young Estella’s brief appearance leaves the audience wanting more from the quirky and quietly fabulous Tipper Seifert-Cleveland, a star in the making. This portrayal of quirky youth is transferred well into Stone’s glorious Estella, and she is extremely convincing with her English accent, both as Estella and as her fierce but likeable counterpart: Cruella. We are afforded an insight into the department store Liberty London, amongst this vintage 1970 setting. I particularly enjoyed the tracking shot that introduced us to the intricate back passages of Liberty, passing the myriad of workers, and settling on Estella, kneeling and cleaning the dingy toilet alone.

Cruella Exhibition at Liberty

A small exhibition, commemorating Jenny Beavan’s costumes, is currently open in the women’s section of Liberty. I just wish they had replicated Estella’s calculated mess of a shop window, as that, for me, encapsulated the classiness of this film. From the colour-changing dress at the Baroness’ ‘Black and White Ball’, to the frocks that lined Artie’s “2nd Time Around” dress store, the costume department certainly delivered in this vibrant piece of cinema.

With regards to casting, Disney got it just right. From the hilarious and charismatic Horace, portrayed by Paul Walter Hauser, to the intimidating Emma Thompson as the Baroness, taking her “nine-minute power-naps”, the characters compliment one and other perfectly. All it was missing was a cameo from original Cruella De Vil (and Executive Producer), Glenn Close. I can only imagine it was a deliberate choice not to include her. Hauser’s (at times) questionable accent can be forgiven due to his charm, and whilst we are certainly meant to dislike Thompson’s Baroness, I do fear it’s more than just her character that I resent.

The piece is self-consciously poetic, with a macabre tone. Some of the rhetoric is almost Oscar Wilde-esque: “Gorgeous and vicious – it’s my favourite combination” and “if you need to talk about power, you don’t have it”. And potentially the most appropriate quote: “Normal is the cruellest insult of them all”, a line which encapsulates the flamboyant character Artie, portrayed by the ethereal John McCrea.

John McCrea as Artie

McCrea is known for his origination of Jamie New in “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie”, the West End musical. Swapping the bleach blonde hair for a punk-rocker’s wig and Jamie’s vulnerability for Artie’s effervescence and self-assurance, John is a welcome addition to this film. He strays even further from his comfort zone when performing The Stooges’ song: “I Wanna Be Your Dog” during a climax in Cruella’s trajectory. As my girlfriend observed: “he adds more depth to the themes of uniqueness, as it’s another character using their quirkiness and style for good”. And with it being Pride month, the inclusion of this LGBTQ+ character is a timely decision.

Nonetheless, there are moments that feel slapstick and unrealistic, but that’s not something I would want to punish Disney for… after all, it is a Disney movie! It may not be 100% believable that the Baroness would be fooled by Cruella’s disguise, or that she would slice Estella’s finger and subsequently ask her employee for a ‘red’ that matches her blood. It is heightened naturalism, with a beautifully ludicrous plot. What matters is the glamour that is embedded into the fabric of this “work of art”. It’s elegant, meticulous and classy, and a perfect homage to the city and its fashion industry. Seeing a strong female protagonist, resisting the norm, is empowering, and ultimately sets this film apart from the traditional heroic arc.

Emma Stone is Cruella / 2021

“Cruella” is showing now on Disney+ with Premier Access for a one time additional fee and simultaneously in cinemas across the UK.

Podcast Editor and Culture Writer for Roar News.



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