Review: ‘Cruella’ wickedly entertains with origin story

“Cruella” stars Oscar-winner Emma Stone in a new Disney origin story in theaters about the iconic villainess of the classic animated 1961 movie “101 Dalmatians.” The fashionista with a cruel streak and willingness to use fur is shown in a more sympathetic light in her early years attempting to navigate the dog-eat-dog fashion world.

Oscar-winner Emma Stone stars as the titular villainess in "Cruella," a live-action adaption prequel and the new release from Disney playing at the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER — Being bad never looked quite so good.

“Cruella” is the live-action prequel to the Disney animated classic “101 Dalmatians.” The new release is an origin story about a young Cruella de Vil, and it costars a pair of Oscar-winning Emmas — Emma Stone as the future villain and Emma Thompson as a ruthless fashionista.

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The fish-out-of-water plot about the aspiring fashion designer Cruella who went simply as Estella in her youth depicts her as a talented and creative child with a bit of a cruel streak — hence the nickname — who has trouble fitting in with her peers at school.

The feature film gives the heartless Cruella from the 1961 animated film a more sympathetic backstory. Estella is shown at birth with her iconic color palette of black-and-white hair, which leads to her being bullied and tormented by her school-age peers.


"Cruella" depicts the origins of the alter ego of a young, talented and ambitious fashion designer in the cutthroat world of fashion in 1970s London. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

Estella’s mother recognizes the rebellious girl’s flair for mischief-making and decides they should relocate to London with its more sophisticated and urbane culture, and the child promises the mother to do better by minding her manners and making more of an effort to fit in.

But before the single mother and her daughter can make it to the metropolis, they make a mysterious stop at a party hosted by Baroness von Hellman to ask for financial assistance, but the relationship between the mother and the wealthy woman isn’t made clear at this point.

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Tragedy soon strikes at the cliffside mansion, and in a brilliant reveal, the movie gives Estella a reason for her legendary hatred of dalmatians in “101 Dalmatians,” in which the adult Cruella expresses a desire to make wearable fashion out of the dogs’ black-and-white spotted coats.

Estella makes her way to 1970s London and befriends a pair of young thieves who take pity on her, and the trio survives by their wits stealing from others, but all the while Estella harbors dreams of making it big someday and making a name for herself with her fashion designs.

One of the thieves finagles a way for Estella to land a job as a cleaner at a department store where she gains the attention of the Baroness, who recognizes the young woman’s brilliance and takes the young woman under her wing at the Baroness’ fashion house.

The Baroness sees something of herself in Estella and proceeds to instruct the future Cruella in matters of becoming a demanding designer who is successful and respected, and yet feared for her merciless approach. exacting standards and haute couture creations.

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It doesn’t take a crystal ball to foresee Estella and the Baroness will soon butt heads, and the audience will come to realize the two have more in common than either would have guessed. And in the battle for dominance, Estella embraces her wicked side and alter ego Cruella.


“I was born brilliant, born bad and a little bit mad. I’m Cruella,” Cruella declares in a moment of self-awareness as she gives in to her true nature.

““I was born brilliant, born bad and a little bit mad. I’m Cruella."

— Cruella

The motion picture is rated PG-13, and it deserves it for some of the film’s violence and thematic elements such as the intent of bodily harm by some of the characters towards others.

The character Cruella de Vil hails from author Dodie Smith's 1956 novel “The Hundred and One Dalmatians.” De Vil was first brought to life on the silver screen in a live-action adaptation by eight-time Oscar-nominated actress Glenn Close.


Close played the villainess in “101 Dalmatians” in 1996 and that film’s sequel “102 Dalmatians” in 2000. The 1996 motion picture was written and produced by the legendary John Hughes. Close serves as an executive producer on “Cruella.”

Audiences haven’t seen the last of Cruella. Disney has stated a sequel is in the works with director Craig Gillespie, who is best known for the quirky 2007 romantic comedy “Lars and the Real Girl” starring Ryan Gosling, and writer Tony McNamara expected to sign on for the sequel.


The motion picture soundtrack to “Cruella” and the production value of the feature film playing at the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter makes it a new release worthy of a big-screen debut, but the movie can also be streamed now by those with a Disney+ subscription for an additional charge.

“Cruella” holds a 74% approval rating among critics and a better 97% approval rating among audiences at Rotten Tomatoes, a review-aggregation website for film and television.

The consensus from the audience at “With dazzling costumes, a great soundtrack, and a pair of terrific performances from Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, ‘Cruella’ shows a classic character in an entertaining new light.”

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write mostly features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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