CRUELLA (2021) is a fun, twisty origin story headlined by two quality performances

Witness the origin story of one of Disney’s most notoriously evil villains, Cruella de Vil, in a narrative stretching way back to 1970s London where a young Estella (Emma Stone) is determined to make a name for herself in the fashion world alongside her newfound thieving friends.

Initially, I didn’t have much hope for this film, largely because I didn’t see the big draw in focusing an entire film around this particular character’s backstory. However, Cruella puts on a pretty entertaining show and turns out to be a fun ride that I enjoyed watching pretty much the entire way through. The narrative follows the general structure that you’d expect a villain origin story to follow, but it still manages to feel fresh, unique and original in the process. There’s a couple of beats that you know it’s going to hit, with the occasional link to 101 Dalmatians, but overall – the writers managed to implement a decent number of shocks and surprises to throw the story in some unforeseen creative directions. In terms of the pacing, it moves along pretty consistently without slowing down at all through the middle of the film, helping to keep the narrative flowing.

Being a crime thriller/comedy, there’s a pretty good mix of entertaining heist-like elements and well-timed comedic beats throughout. The comedic moments don’t really get to the point of being laugh-out-loud entertaining, as that wouldn’t fit with the tone, but there’s a neat little chuckle or two to come from them. The majority of these moments are delivered through Cruella’s sidekicks, played by Paul Walter Hauser and Joel Fry. I initially thought these two were going to become annoying, but they actually served the narrative really well and contributed to a decent number of effective comedic beats.

The unquestionable highlight of the film is the ensemble cast, with a couple of notably great performances. Firstly, it’s clear that Emma Stone is having an absolute blast in the role – really committing to the character and conveying the evil nature of Cruella brilliantly well. There aren’t many of Emma Stone’s previous roles that I find to be memorable, but this is certainly one of them. She expertly displays the duality of her character, from Estella to Cruella, across a number of different scenes through her dialogue and overall body language. She’s effectively playing two characters and does so really well. It should also be stated that Emma Thompson is absolutely magnificent. She channels this energy reminiscent of Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada and brings so much to the story, tone and thrills. I just heavily praised Emma Stone’s performance, but I’d say that if Emma Thompson doesn’t also deliver this good of a performance, the film just doesn’t work. Really, it’s these two extravagant personalities combined that enhance the story and make it so fun to watch.

In the end, I really don’t have much else to say about Cruella. Beyond the fun, engaging narrative, cool heist elements, fantastic performances and neat punk rock atmosphere, there really isn’t anything else to go into. I believe this is a really entertaining film that’s just a lot of fun for the whole family. There’s touches of comedy, a killer soundtrack and a well-executed emotional character arc, while there’s not really anything I can pick out that I disliked. I’d say this is certainly worth the watch, especially if you’re a fan of the genre or want to learn more about one of Disney’s greatest villains. It has me looking forward to what the already announced sequel is going to be like.

7.5/10

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