Brimming with talent and eager to make her mark in the world, Estella (Emma Stone) reaches London in the '70s at the birth of punk and glam rock, and falls in with petty criminals Jasper and Horace (Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser) as she plots to take on a powerful fashion designer (Emma Thompson), who just so happens to have a connection to her own past...
Disney's current tactic of hauling out characters from its extensive catalogue and rejigging them for a live-action treatment has had varying levels of success. 'Maleficent', though it made a fortune at the box office, didn't really have much in the way of impact or longevity after its release. 'Pete's Dragon', directed by David Lowery no less, came and went without a whisper. 'The Lion King', ambitious as it was with a cast riddled with starpower, was a middling affair.
In steps 'Cruella' and you're hoping for something with a bit of oomph to jolt the whole thing into life. After all, it's a villain origin story and those always tend to do well in our current morass of comprised values and ambiguous meanings, right? 'Joker' won at the Oscars, so why couldn't 'Cruella' and Emma Stone? After all, you've got Tony McNamara, the writer of 'The Favourite' on scripting duties, Craig 'I, Tonya' Gillespie behind the camera, and Emma Thompson playing a stuffy English socialite. All the stars are aligning, but unfortunately 'Cruella' never quite lives up to the name or the expectation.
That a total of five people shared story and script credits on this should give you some idea of how muddled it all feels. It ping-pongs from soap opera/telenovela twists to slapstick comedy sequences to extended music interludes and grungy concert footage, along with caper heist montages in there as well. But as much as the cast might talk up how un-Disney it all is in interviews, 'Cruella' never quite sticks its neck out far enough. This is evidenced in the movie itself regarding a certain item of clothing we're made to believe is made of a certain material, but is in fact, merely done for shock value. The whole thing doesn't cross the threshold. More to the point, do we actually want it to go there in the first place?
For all of this, 'Cruella' is still a lot of fun. Emma Thompson will most likely require some amount of reconstructive surgery on her jaw from the amount of scenery she chews throughout this movie. Emma Stone plays the dual roles of Estella/Cruella with ease, going from full-on vampish diva to inert underling in the blink of an eye. The supporting cast includes the always reliable Mark Strong and Paul Walter Hauser, while 'Giri/Haji' alum John McCrea stands out among them as one of Cruella's designers. The soundtrack, which includes wild swings from Joe Dolan (really) to Iggy Pop, may be overbearing in places, but it works overall.
The gritty punk rock/glam rock setting chosen for the movie also makes for inventive choices in production and costume design, and Craig Gillespie draws on it all with gusto throughout the movie. More than that, the era and its chaotic shifts in culture feeds the central conflict between the stodgy style of the Baroness against Cruella's revamped, remade fashion choices.
While it's overflowing with music, costumes, and performances, 'Cruella' doesn't have any elegance to it. It's loud and brash like its titular character, and lacks any kind of grace to its editing, running on about twenty minutes too long and leaving itself open for a sequel that, frankly, it doesn't need or deserve.