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Rocking But Not Rolling

Emma Stone in Cruella (2021)

By Paul Hall

Cruella de Vil — it is a name that is synonymous with the term “villain.” The cute and lovable puppies of 101 Dalmatians fame feared the iconic character with the black and white hair and what she might do to them. What really made her so fearsome? In the new film Cruella, we get an idea of just what struggles have led to her behavior.

Estella (Emma Stone) has always been a bit different. As a 12-year-old, she is rebelling against the system and her mother and is about to get expelled for her behavior. Her mother removes her from school so it won’t make her permanent record, and the two set off for London, but only one will arrive — Estella.

An orphan in London, young Estella makes friends with two other orphans, forming a makeshift family relying on petty thefts to make it.

Together Estella, Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) have each other’s backs and do their best to survive. When Jasper takes an opportunity to push Estella forward in the design field, it eventually leads to a meeting with the legendary fashion designer known as The Baroness (Emma Thompson), someone Estella has long looked up to in the fashion industry. Starting at the bottom, no matter how you are found, is not an easy task — and Estella is about to find out just how much of a struggle life can be.

But this will lead to the eventual release of the industry phenom soon to be referred to simply as Cruella. And Cruella is ready for her moment in the spotlight.

In a film that takes a dark approach to the development of the iconic Cruella, the journey is the thing here. Stone is able to magically float through her dual persona as Estella and Cruella with relative ease. She delivers just the right amount of attitude and sass to bring the mean and self-centered Cruella de Vil to life.

Thompson is a pleasant addition to the hierarchy with her performance as The Baroness. She adds a certain weight and gravitas to the film that oozes from her onscreen performance. As more secrets are revealed, Thompson is increasingly believable in her role.

I loved the soundtrack, visuals and the look of the film, and the occasional humor did tend to connect more than not, yet something was still missing. The film felt like it needed to be a bit tighter and was geared to an older audience. When I look at classic characters like Cruella, I look for a light and airy approach that scores with kids of all ages (including old kids like me). And I feel that while it may connect in some regards with me, I can’t recommend taking the youngest among us to this PG-13 effort. This darker tone will not be something kids will sit for over two hours to experience.

Cruella wins and loses and is of course set up for a sequel in the credits for the film. Adults who grew up with Cruella, Perdita and Pongo (101 Dalmatians) will appreciate this film that comes right for them, but they may need to see it without their kids. Cruella rocks but it can’t quite roll.

Paul’s Grade: B-

Rated PG-13
Stars Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Mark Strong, Kirby Howell-Baptiste
Director: Craig Gillespie

Cruella — In Theaters and On Disney+ Premier Access 05.28

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