Creating a backstory for decades-old characters (who really never had any backstory in the first place) can be a tricky thing. For one, do we really need it? Most of the time that answer is probably “no.” But since it’s all about content, content, content, the studios might as well mine as much as they can from their older animated characters. Cruella, Disney’s latest, falls right in this definition. Did we need to find out the origin story of the dalmatian-hating meanie? Again, probably, “no.” But, writers Dana Fox and Tony McNamara, along with director Craig Gillespie, came up with something cute and original. And, to be quite honest, if it wasn’t for the knock-it-out-of-park, over the top performances of Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, the movie wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as it is.
Is it fluff? Heck, yeah. But in the best way possible.
The film opens with a young (soon to be Cruella) Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) and her mother, attempting to teach her how to be a nice, proper lady. Soon, her mom, like most Disney parents, dies in a “only in the movies” kind of way and she’s left on her own, fending for herself. She and her scrappy little puppy run into a young Jasper (Ziggy Gardner) and Horace (Joesph MacDonald), who take her in and quickly teach her how to survive, namely by pickpocketing unsuspecting people all over the streets of London.
The performances in the opening are great and Seifert-Cleveland is terrific, but it feels overly long and packs a lot in. And it’s a long time to wait for adult Estella/Cruella to show up.
Cut to several years later and Estella (Stone), Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) are still doing the grift, but she’s not exactly happy with how life has turned out. With a passion for fashion design, she scores a job at the best fashion house in London (thanks to a little help from Jasper). Run by The Baroness (Thompson), Estella eventually catches her eye and is promoted to assistant. And as these stories go, the two don’t have the best working relationship.
And yes, we come to find out how she got her name, Cruella DeVille, and her hatred for dalmatians.
The cast, even down to some of the smaller roles, are just terrific. But, the film really comes alive when the Emma’s are together. Watching them work, it feels like they are having a blast trying to one-up each other in the crazy-department and as an audience, what is better than that?