First of all, if you haven’t seen Cruella yet, stop reading and go watch it. The aesthetic alone is worth it. Furthermore, I believe it to be one of the best movies of 2021. Yes, it’s THAT good. The two leading Emma’s, Stone and Thompson, delivery Oscar-worthy performances from beginning to end. The writing is smart, dark-humored and delivered with such aplomb that you almost forget you’re watching a Disney film. Many people had their doubts about Emma Stone playing such an iconic role, but those of us who have been following her career since the days of Superbad and The House Bunny know better.
While Cruella is largely meant to depict the origin story of one of Disney’s most famous and ruthless villains, it is also a story about childhood trauma and how one deals with that trauma as they become an adult. Following the tragic death of her mother, Estella finds a new family by joining a ragtag team of kid pickpockets who squat in an abandoned loft apartment. Estella, now a young adult, finds herself still feeling guilty over the death of her mother until she learns who is ultimately to blame, her actual birth mother, the Baroness (Thompson). This revelation is both cathartic and a sort of rebirth, as the mild-mannered Estella creates a fierce alter ego, Cruella, in order to deal and exact revenge on the woman responsible for destroying her world.
Much of the “revenge” that is carried out throughout the film can arguably be chalked up to karma. Cruella mounts her own fashion empire, with the help of her flatmates Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), and local vintage fashion shop owner Artie (John McCrea)–shout out to Disney for finally featuring a gay character in a live-action movie. Happy Pride, indeed. Cruella outwits the Baroness at every turn, from secretly sewing in gold-colored moth eggs to the Baroness’s ballgown to having all of the guests dress in black and white to cause confusion of the utmost caliber. She has turned her pain into power; she just doesn’t always use it in the most constructive way, but what fun is that?
The film goes just far enough to give us a taste of the true villain Cruella will one day become, but still leaves plenty of story to be told up until then. With a sequel already in the works, it looks like we’ll be seeing the further evolution of Cruella sooner rather than later.