Spoilers sold their soul to the company store.

I know there are easy flaws to find about a movie with a thinly disguised message about independence and individuality made by the largest entertainment corporation on earth. In all fairness, as much punk rock creds this movie attempts to shamelessly flaunt, there is something engaging about its main character. It will have all the Disney staples of orphans, puppies, over-the-top villains and moments played for cuteness appeal or dramatic effect that you’ll see coming a mile away. Despite being very much Disney, it has enough to save itself from being average and that’s saying a lot from a live adaptation. Perhaps enough to warrant a watch.

(Credit: Disney)

Cruella (2021) was directed by Craig Gillespie with a screenplay written by Dana Fox and Tony McNamara. The story is by Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel and Steve Zissis based on the characters created on the novel One Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith. After losing her mother in a very convoluted and contrived way, a young and precocious girl joins two pickpocketing thieves in the streets of London. All grown up, Estella (Emma Stone) has become very much a survivor just as Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser). Estella has always had an eye for fashion and she’s specially drawn to the most famous designer known simply as the Baroness (Emma Thompson). When Jasper manages to slip in a fabricated CV so that Estella can work at a famous department store, she ends up as a cleaner. One night, she gets drunk and spruces up one of the windows, finally attracting the attention of her idol.

So, what do we have here… Well, the story itself is not bad. You do have to deal with a lot of Disney staples that are mainly ornamental, starting with the forced involvement of dogs, specially the cgi ones. This would’ve worked better if we didn’t try to focus them every other scene. There’s also going to be that lack of consistency where Jasper and Horace go from ninja-skilled master thieves to bumbling crooks the next just for comedy effects. Emma Thompson chews the scenery going for over-the-top camp in a way she probably needs to trademark. She pulls it off, it’s just that with all her eccentricities you can’t help but be reminded you’re watching Disney. Everything is framed to look on brand.

On the positive side, the film does go a little dark with the reveal – because, of course there is one. As the Baroness’ top designer, Estella is a meek and mild Clark Kent until her wild side comes out, challenging her boss as the wicked Cruella. Emma Stone is a bit of a mix as Cruella. Sometimes, it comes out naturally and sometimes it can be a little cringy. I feel like the wicked laugh could’ve been saved for a key moment further ahead. That being said, she is her own character, half-heroic and half-villain. You are curious of what she can come up with, although at the same time the overall plot is a bit by the numbers. I think Jasper and Horace end up being welcome additions, not for their jokes but because they stick by Estella/Cruella.

The retro seventies look is nice, the casting of the side characters including Artie (John McCrea), John (Mark Strong) and Anita Darling (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) is a welcome addition and there’s a lot of bangers in the soundtrack. However, as Disney does, it’s all wrapped too tight. The fashion can look a little cartoonish, a lot of characters are only there to cheer on the sidelines and some restraint in using 70’s hit for everything that happens in a scene would have gone a long way. The movie rests a lot on Emma Stone’s performance which has some very dark moments. Emma Thompson plays a one-note villain, but she’s an expert at those. As much as one might think Thompson edges ahead, Stone brought to life a person with internal conflict specially well during the final acts.

Lightly recommended with reservations. It’s corporate entertainment with just as much spice and dark tones as you could find in a Disney film. It’s not going to knock your socks off, but it has engaging characters and some quirky performances. You’d better off setting your expectations low, but if you have ever been a fan of Disney villains (and I can’t stress the word Disney enough here) you might enjoy your time. This movie goes to the dogs way too often for a live adaptation. It also has too many nudges and winks to the cartoon (or just a cartoon in general) that we can’t really call easter eggs. If you’re willing to sit through a Disney movie, you might watch a little above average film.

That will do for now.