Movie Review: Cruella

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Like “Maleficent,” Disney has done wonders in refashioning the origin story of Cruela de Vil, one of its most heinous villains with “Cruella.”  Born as Estella (Emma Stone, “La La Land, ” “The Amazing Spider-Man”), Cruella is more of an anti-hero than a villain here.  

As a kid (Tipper Seiferd-Cleveland) with a dual-toned jet black and platinum hair, Estella was viewed as a freak and she got into fights in school.  Her sweet-natured mother (Emily Beecham), a single parent, tried to tone down her rebelliousness to keep her out of trouble.  

When Estella was expelled from school, she’s looking for help for her daughter when she met a tragic end, leaving Estella orphaned and heartbroken with guilt.  On the run, Estella ran into two other homeless kids, Horace (Joseph Macdonald, Paul Walter-Hausher) and Jasper (Ziggy Gardner, Joel Fry), and they quickly banded together.

The trio grows up together on the streets of London, they go from pocket-picking to more brazen thievery to survive, utilizing Estella’s fashion talent to create disguises, accompanied by their dogs which are trained to steal.  The scenes are hysterical; one of them leads to Estella snagging a menial job at a legendary department store, House of Liberty.  

An unintended incident shows off Estella’s innate talent as an aspiring fashion designer, which leads to Estella being discovered by a merciless fashion maven, Baroness von Hellman, (Emma Thompson).  The Baroness hires Estella to work for her.  

Not only does Thompson have her Devil Wears Prada’s narcissistic elitism and tyrannical chilliness down pat, she dials it up to an unfathomable level.  But Estella continues to catch her attention.  Having a keen eye for design and natural creative flair, Estella becomes a rising star and the Baroness’ go-to assistant. 

Photo by Laurie Sparham © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc.

One day during a meeting, Estella sees something connected to her childhood that shocks her to her core, propelling her to plot a series of events against the Baroness.  It’s devilishly entertaining to see an enemy on the inside in action.  A failed Mission Impossible’s type of heist opens Estella’s eyes further and makes her realize the extent of the Baroness’ savagery.  Her cruelty knows no bounds. 

If a human could grow a devil’s horns out of her head, Estella would have as she stares down pure evil.  Brilliant, bad and a little bit mad, Stone is emotionally raw and icily determined, as fabulous in her performance as draped in luxurious fabric.

Estella goes by the name of Cruella, the nickname bestowed to her in childhood.  She shows up at the Baroness’ galas, stylishly upstaging her at every turn, whether in a lavish clifftop mansion or on the street with the masses.  

Cruella rambunctiously rocks the scenes in glamorous gowns and vivid colors, bringing in glowing lights and live music.  The elaborate stunts are lapped up by the press and fans, and tank the Baroness’ popularity and haute couture sales.  The vicious rivalry cycle, while vivacious, overflows and could use a little scissor’s cut. 

Photo by Laurie Sparham © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc.

Cruella’s over-the-top stratagems finally catch up to her, but not all is lost.  Fate twists again and turns around in unexpected ways.  Precisely prepared and setting her mark on the Baroness, the final act goes down in a dramatic Kingman’s action and is unmistakably satisfying.  Amidst the superficiality of decadent fashion and high society, the story has layers of twists and characters sharply play off each other.  

Fashionably extravagant, twistedly tragic and deliriously hilarious, “Cruella” is wickedly entertaining.  

Copyright (c) 2021. Nathalia Aryani

Nathalia Aryani is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic ( She has a movie blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at [email protected].

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