This movie is like 90% great and 10% WHY?????
Estella Miller (Emma Stone) was born a bit of an outcast due to her black-and-white hair, but it certainly isn’t helped by her mischievous streak. Her only friend growing up is a young girl named Anita Darling (Kirby Howell-Baptiste). Her mother, Catherine (Emily Beecham), decides to move the two of them to London, but when she stops to get help from a “friend,” Estella wanders into a fashion show and gets caught, resulting in a pack of Dalmatians chasing after her. The Dalmatians attack her mother and kill her. Yes, that actually happens. Now orphaned, Estella meets two street urchins named Horace and Jasper (Paul Walter Hauser and Joel Fry). The three grow up as thieves until Estella finally manages to get a job working for famed fashion designer The Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson) and befriends local fashion shop owner Artie (John McCrea). Soon, however, Estella decides she needs to pull a heist on her employer and debuts herself as the new face of fashion: Cruella.
I will start by saying that having Cruella de Vil’s mother killed by Dalmatians is possibly the absolute dumbest thing they could have done. Moreover, it doesn’t even make her hate Dalmatians, not even the ones that actually orphaned her, thus making it completely useless to her origin. Combine that with the idea that Cruella de Vil’s black-and-white hair is somehow natural and the terrible “this is how I died” set-up and I’ll admit that at the 10 minute mark, I was about ready to call this movie a disaster (despite a great performance by Tipper Seifert-Cleveland as young Cruella). Surprisingly, though, once the movie kind of settles into its ultimate 1970s London location, the film actually gets pretty entertaining and impressive.
First of all, the makeup and hair design and set design in this movie might both merit Oscar nominations, if not outright wins, but the costume design takes it to another level. The costumes in the film have to be beautiful, diverse (they are coming from multiple designers, after all), thematically appropriate, and inventive as heck. Somehow, they pull it off repeatedly. At one point, without spoiling anything, it’s revealed that Cruella is wearing almost the entire shot and I legitimately shouted at the brilliance of it. As far as makeup and set design goes, this movie looks absolutely gorgeous. Spots are hidden everywhere to reference the Dalmatians, the colors are bold, they look period appropriate while also containing references to locations of famous art shows (if you just watched Halston, then you’d probably recognize some stuff), and they’re just cool looking.
Emma Thompson and Emma Stone are both amazing. They’re both strong women with more similarities than they’d like to admit, particularly since Emma Thompson resembles the person that we are told Cruella will one day become. She definitely seems a bit influenced by Glenn Close in the live action version as well as Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Emma Stone plays Estella as a bit of a split personality with Cruella, changing quite a bit as she indulges further and further into her criminal persona, which starts to actually behave like a young version of her future self. Paul Walter Hauser and Joel Fry both give a lot more personality to their characters which is helped by the fact that they deal with both Estella, who treats them like close friends, and Cruella, who treats them like lackeys. It’s interesting to see them react to the change, because at first they just try to deal with it because they care about her, but then they slowly get worn down by her abuse.
The biggest problem, though, is that the film can’t actually let Cruella be the villain. While she does START to do a turn towards darkness, she never actually falls to it. By the end of the movie, she’s basically just a successful fashion designer with no indication that she’d ever order the murder of a bunch of Dalmatians just to make a coat. In fact, a big part of the movie is that one of her closest companions IS A DOG. Even when she is actually given the chance to be cruel to animals, the film makes it clear that she is not even considering it. At the end of the film, there is absolutely no way that the character we’ve been following will EVER be Cruella de Vil except in name. It’s not that she’s a bad character, in fact, she’s very interesting, but she’s not Cruella de Vil. Oh, and the mid-credits scene only drives that home way more.
Overall, the only parts of this movie that don’t work are the ones that seem to be forced to make it a “Cruella de Vil” movie. If you just let it be independent of that, the movie was actually pretty enjoyable and, again, damned gorgeous.
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