After Maleficent, Disney attacked a new antagonist in its universe. The company with big ears gives us a promise in the darkroom to find the birth of Cruella, the killer of the Dalmatians who traumatized many cherubim. Critical.
Bad guys are definitely popular in Hollywood. In the lineage of Maleficent and Joker, Cruella promises to explore the birth of antagonists and to return to the emergence of characters that will mark generations of audiences fed to Disney productions. This time the killer Puppy Cruella is played by Emma Stone in an ambitious reinterpretation of the character. In 1970s London, Estella is a full-time criminal determined to make a name for herself in fashion. When she is noticed by Baroness von Hellman, a great fashion figure, Estella will gradually transform into a cruel and evil character. With her black and white hair, Cruella is revealed in a new light, all nuanced and far removed from the Manichean visions the big-eared company has offered us in the past.
If it’s hard to imagine feeling the softness of the character, Emma Stone managed to make Cruella sympathetic thanks to her playing. Because that is the whole purpose of this film, to increase the capital of her sympathy with the audience, while offering us a dive into the origins of the character in the punk reinterpretation of the mythical villain 101 Dalmatians. At this point, Craig Gillespie’s film largely fulfills its function. Disrespectful, Emma Stone blows up the screen and shows us that once again no role can turn her down. The actress, who distinguished herself in La La Land, comes down to embodying this anti-hero and inevitably, it’s felt in dark spaces. He brilliantly personifies this duality, between shame for Estella and joy for Cruella.
The film can also count on Emma Thompson, whose talent is well established. Here she lends her features to the Baroness, a fashion figure reminiscent of Miranda Priesley du Diable wearing Prada. As ruthless, if not more so, than her alter ego, this actress offers a fine contrast to Cruella’s character and allows the film to fulfill its purpose. On the other hand, the rest of the cast was relegated to foil rank and even the excellent Mark Strong didn’t get a role commensurate with his talent. Also note that while the first part is more than fun, the plot runs out of steam a bit midway. Blame it on a more agreed-upon narrative that doesn’t really fit the character’s quirky personality.
Visually, Cruella is a complete success. With his camera, Craig Gillespie brilliantly captures the birth of the character and delivers a soft, uncompromising look in the world of novels but also cartoons. If this film is as far from trash as its previous feature films, it’s clear that the filmmaker’s work hasn’t been (too) sanitized by the company with big ears. The fact remains that the narrative doesn’t risk completely falling into the wrong politics and sometimes sticking to the surface. It’s hard to imagine how young Cruella would later become the insatiable fashion goddess terrorizing dog fans. But after all, there are often many sides to the same story, and what Disney tells isn’t nearly as bland as feared.
Unlike Maleficent, Cruella benefits from taking real artistic risk in both form and substance. This feeling is amplified by the absolutely stunning decor. But where Disney focuses its efforts is definitely in the costumes. With her wardrobe turning the biggest fashion figures pale, Cruella has established herself as an icon and the attention to detail from costume designer Fiona Crombie is no doubt no stranger to her. He’s been working on La Favorite, been with Emma Stone. It reproduces the feat and manages to offer another dimension to the film.
With the emergence of punk in the background, Cruella reflects the mutation of the music and this is reflected in the director’s choice of the soundtrack. Between The Rolling Stones, Supertramp, and The Doors, Craig Gillespie sent love letters to shrill guitars and epileptic drums. Also note that the original music, composed by Nicholas Britell, doesn’t lag behind when it comes to embodying the duality of characters.
If the risk-taking is less flamboyant than imagined, Cruella easily establishes herself as the most ambitious reinterpretation of the Disney classic. After a purged and tasteless live-action film that goes unnamed, the evil 101 Dalmatians are blowing fresh air on the corporate calendar with big ears. Well, don’t get too carried away, it’s still a Mickey Mouse movie. We can’t escape some scripting cliches.