“I’m not sweet Estella, try as I might I never was. I’m Cruella, born brilliant, born bad, and a little bit mad.” -Cruella 2021
By Nichole Harwood
And the award for best portrayal of the popular Disney Villain Cruella De Vil goes to Glenn Close from the 1996 film 101 Dalmatians!
Second-place goes to, well, Victoria Smurfit from ABC’s Once Upon a Time. But the third-place would go to Emma Stone and her portrayal of the villain in 2021’s Cruella!
If that seems a little anticlimactic, then it pretty much sums up the portrayal of Cruella in Disney’s latest live-action film Cruella. The 2021 Crime Comedy Cruella follows the life of a young Estella as she slowly unravels the mystery surrounding her mother’s death and her own identity twistedly tied to fashion icon Baroness Von Hellman. The movie does a fantastic job of engaging audiences as we follow a young Estella going from troublemaker to an unhinged criminal mastermind. She becomes bent on revenge leading to a genuinely creative fashion war. Everything about Cruella 2021 is masterful, from the aesthetics to Emma Stone and Emma Thompson’s acting as they bounce between mentor and student to bitter enemies.
Cruella 2021 only has one flaw, and that is the portrayal of the infamous villain Cruella. Disney’s Cruella 2021 attempts to take the same route as Disney’s 2014 film Maleficent where Angelina Jolie played the popular Disney villain Maleficent following her from childhood to the moment her fateful curse affects Elle Fanning’s Aurora, aka Sleeping beauty. While Cruella 2021 is a superior film in almost every way, the 2014 Maleficent trumps it in the portrayal of its villain by completely sidestepping why its version of the villain is different. At the beginning of Disney’s 2014 Maleficent, we are told that Sleeping Beauty’s story was unreliable due to other versions being told by unreliable narrators. From the first ten minutes of Disney’s 2014 Maleficent, we, as an audience, are told and shown that stories of Maleficent’s evil were greatly exaggerated. But the excuse of unreliable narrators works in a fantasy fairy tale setting, not in a movie set in the real world.
Disney’s Cruella isn’t from a timeless fairytale-like Sleeping Beauty with multiple narrators but rather from 101 Dalmatians, where our star villain’s goal is to skin 101 dalmatians to make a fur coat. There is no realistic way to twist that type of villain into an anti-hero. Instead, Disney sidesteps it completely, ultimately creating a great film with a character that almost feels like she’s cosplaying the villain whose origins she is supposed to be to portray. What’s worse is there are at least three titular moments in the film where Emma Stone’s Cruella almost takes a step that would have made her seem like she truly was going down the path of brutal yet fashionable evil. Every time, however, is quickly thwarted by a sense of morality that, while it makes Stone’s Cruela relatable and likable, makes her utterly unbelievable as the wanna-be puppy killer.
This is only made worse by Thompson’s truly terrifying portrayal of the antagonist Baroness Von Hellman, who is almost more villain than the original Cruella De Vil in many aspects. As a stand-alone film, Cruella 2021 is a thrilling ride that is engaging from start to finish, but as a successful origin to the infamous villain, it fails horribly. Disney is filled to the brim with both engaging heroes and villains. The studio got it right when they allowed Glen Close to completely embrace the madness, brilliance, and fashionably corrupt aspects that made Cruella De Vil genuinely iconic. A villain that you love despising. But by backing away from the character’s darker elements, we have been left with a film that, while entertaining, stars a main character that will always brim with potential and yet never reach it.
Sorry Cruella 2021, but while your main character was born brilliant, you seem to have left both the bad and the mad at the door.
Film Score: B+
Portrayal of Cruella: D-
Those interested in watching Cruella 2021 can find the movie on Disney +