When I first heard that there was going to be a prequel to the 1996 live-action film “101 Dalmatians” about the origin of the classic villain Cruella de Vil, I didn’t have very high expectations. Disney has failed time after time with their prequels: “The Lion King 1½” (2004), “Cinderella III: A Twist in Time” (2007), “The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning” (2008) and many more. But Emma Stone, the star of “Cruella” (2021), has proven my doubts entirely wrong.
The origin story is set in 1970s London. The film’s main character, Estella, is a creative and clever young girl around 12 years old, who plans to one day make a name for herself as a fashion designer. After her mother’s death and running from orphanages, she is forced to come up with crafty ways to survive. She meets a pair of thieves who appreciate her desire for mischief, and together they build a life for themselves on the streets of London.
Estella, now in her 20s, meets the cold-hearted couture fashion legend Baroness von Hellman — played by Emma Thompson — who notices Estella’s creative and innovative fashion genius. Baroness, who claims all of her employee’s work as her own, offers Estella a job at her company, and just like that, the eccentric girl starts living out her fashion dream.
But the road to couture success and empowerment is bombarded with struggles and doubts, and it doesn’t take long for utterly shocking and dangerous information about Baroness to come to light. Estella is overtaken by rage and burned by her need for revenge, and the bold, “jet-black-snow-white-coiffed” Cruella rises up from the ashes, eager to take over the fashion industry and destroy Baroness’ name. But damn does she make evil look good.
This film gave me goosebumps every 20 seconds. Each scene was beautifully crafted with synchronizing colors, and the soundtrack was a rock and roll symphony of 1970s legends like Queen, The Doors, Blondie, The Clash and more. The unique angles of each shot were unlike any Disney movie I had seen so far, and the risqué PG-13 storyline was mature for adult audiences who grew up with the original classic, while also not taking it too far for young viewers. The edgy, punk film portrayed Cruella as much less of a villain and much more of a renegade.
The casting of Emma Stone as Cruella could not have been more perfect. Her eccentric yet realistic British accent and unconventional fashion choices made her one of my favorite lovable villains.
In Disney’s original animated “101 Dalmatians” from 1961, Cruella de Vil is an evil woman in her sixties whose goal is to kill and skin the Dalmatians for their fur as a new fashion statement. In “Cruella,” she is much less interested in murdering dogs, using fake Dalmatian fur instead, and much more interested in well-deserved revenge. The real villain in this story is Baroness, who eliminates any rivals in her path. Cruella steals her thunder time and time again in the most badass ways.
“Cruella” gave me a lot of vibes from the cult classic “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006), which gives viewers a look into the fashion world and encourages having a unique fashion sense.
Because of “Cruella,” Emma Stone is now one of my all-time favorite actresses, and I will never develop preconceived negative judgments about a Disney prequel again.
Follow Gianna Kelley on Twitter, @gianna_kelleyyy
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