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Cruella review: A different movie than you might expect

Cruella review
(Image credit: Disney)

Disney is on a wave of live action remakes right now, taking animated classics and doing them again with real people. Cruella is the latest installment of this series, though this isn’t a shot-for-shot remake of the 1961 classic 101 Dalmatians. That was already done way back in 1996.

Instead we have a prequel of sorts, following the titular character Cruella de Vil on her journey to becoming the fur-obsessed fashion mogul. Sort of. This isn’t just a straight 101 Dalmatians prequel, it’s actually a lot weirder and more complicated than that.

Cruella comparisons will be made

Based on the original trailer, you’d be forgiven for assuming Cruella is what you get if you blend The Devil Wears Prada together with 2019’s Joker. Cruella owes a lot to those movies, in more ways than one, but that description would be a massive oversimplification.

Comparisons can also be made to 2014’s Maleficent, which recast Sleeping Beauty’s main villain as a more sympathetic character. Maleficent is characterized as more of an anti-villain than an anti-hero in the movie, though the movie actually explains why she did what she did and gives her a chance at redemption.

Why Cruella is different

But Cruella also isn’t that kind of movie, particularly since there are serious problems with trying to make Cruella de Vil seem like a sympathetic character. Mainly because even the most dedicated carnivores will take offence at the prospect of slaughtering puppies just for the sake of making a fashion statement. There’s no justifying that level of villainy, no matter how you spin in.

This is not the same Cruella that we’ve seen before. We see young Estella de Vil, the aspiring fashion designer who gets a new name, spiral. And then she willingly sprints down the path that sees her embrace madness and the desire for revenge. In fact that change is very sudden, and it’s explicitly obvious that Estella was the sweet public persona, masking the true Cruella that has been lurking underneath for so many years. This pivot, and duality, makes Cruella stand out as a film.

And even by the end, with Cruella fully embracing her inner madness and villainy, it’s almost impossible to see her take a turn for the worst and make the decision to kill a bunch of puppies. The movie hints at that prospect a number of times, and Cruella toes the line of full-blown villainy, but it never actually happens. 

Cruella doesn't line up with 101 Dalmatians — and that's OK

In fact Cruella’s relationship with the movie’s canine cast suggests that this is one line Emma Stone’s character will not be crossing. No matter what crimes and threats she makes, this Cruella always stays firmly in the camp of anti-heroism and never strays into full-blown villainy.

In other words this is not a prequel to 101 Dalmatians. This is something completely different, and I was not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did.

Cruella is a weird sort of film, in that it mashes together a bunch of different genres. The movie turns itself on its head so many times it’s hard to say exactly what kind of category you’d put it in. Disney Plus broadly categorizes the movie as drama and crime, which is not inaccurate. But Cruella manages to squeeze in elements of several classic tropes throughout its 134 minute run time.

Cruella has several elements from classic revenge tales, heist movies, period pieces, and the classic ‘rags to riches’ trope. Plus there’s the ever-looming expectation that this movie is essentially a supervillain origin story. But it’s a wild ride, because Cruella never really does what you expect it to do, and that makes it all the more enjoyable to watch.

Where Cruella doesn't work

Some of the casting could have been better though, particularly in the case of American actors playing English characters. Paul Walter Hauser (aka Stringray from Cobra Kai, and Richard Jewell in Richard Jewell) gives Horace a gruff voice that’s clearly come from watching too many Guy Ritchie movies. Horace is supposed to be your classic buffoonish thief, and he certainly acts as much throughout the film. And yet he sounds like Phil Mitchell’s (Americans, look up Eastenders) long-lost chain smoking brother.

Likewise Emma Stone sounds far too prim and proper for a woman that essentially grew up as a street urchin on the streets of London. To me, as a native Brit, it seems pretty clear that this is a learned accent and not one that has been developed over time. But hey, it’s not a caricature, which is always a risk when Hollywood is concerned.

Cruella is now free to watch on Disney Plus

While Cruella wasn't one of those films that was really worth paying $30 to see through Disney Plus Premier Access, it's now free to watch with any Disney Plus subscription. 

So if you’re curious about what Cruella has to offer, and you've been waiting for this day to come, you won’t be disappointed. Weird as the movie may be, it’s still a great way to spend two hours. Just be sure to go in with an open mind, because it definitely will not be the movie you were expecting.

Tom Pritchard

Tom is the Tom's Guide's Automotive Editor, which means he can usually be found knee deep in stats the latest and best electric cars, or checking out some sort of driving gadget. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining that Ikea won’t let him buy the stuff he really needs online.