If you know your Disney, Cruella De Vil can often be remembered as one of the most deplorable villains in the Disney animated library. I mean, her motivation was as simple as fashion, and she was willing to kill a bunch of adorable puppies just to make a coat. Unlike a lot of what Disney does with its live-action stuff nowadays, this is not a copy-paste job of '101 Dalmatians'. This is an origin story in which we see how Cruella De Vil became Cruella De Vil - the high class, vicious but fashionable snob who has no regard for puppy life.
As we open, we see Cruella's childhood. Her real name is Estella Miller (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland), and she lives with her mother, Catherine (Emily Beecham). Catherine gives Estella the nickname of "Cruella" due to her having a bit of a nasty streak. This nasty streak eventually gets her pulled from school with plans to move to London. On their way, they stop at a high class party, hosted by the awful Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson). They aren't allowed in, but Estella sneaks off for a peek at things. It is here that she sees all sorts of glamour and high fashion, and it immediately becomes a bit of an obsession. She, however, is found, chased out of the party by a few Dalmatians (thus giving her a bit of an instant hatred for them). While on the run, she evades the dogs, but the dogs end up knocking Catherine off a cliff to her death. So this is basically why Cruella is so heartless towards Dalmatians later in her life.
Now orphaned, Estella wanders, eventually meeting Jasper (Ziggy Gardner) and Horace (Joseph MacDonald), and the three begin their friendship as a handful of street urchins in London. They make their way by stealing, stealing and more stealing. Ten years of this life lead to Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) stealing Estella (Emma Stone) a very special gift; a job as a cleaner at Liberty Department Store; owned by the Baroness, it is the highest in quality fashion. The job ends up sucking, and Estella's knack for fashion one day leads her to drunkenly fix a window display one night. The Baroness sees it, and instead of punishing her for it, she offers her a job as her assistant. It's here that Estella notices her dead mother's valuable necklace around the Baroness' neck, and from here, it pretty much becomes a heist movie while Estella transforms into Cruella through the process.
Although this is a movie that has a lot to do with high society, fashion and the like (all of which I have next to no interest in at all), I have to admit that when it comes to live action Disney material, it's definitely a breath of fresh air. I really like that, for once, we have something very different. This is an original story that gives you some hints for '101 Dalmatians', but it's not just a remake. It's got the odd Easter egg here and there, and Emma Stone, I think, was the right way to go with casting. She is meant to be a more innocent character for a good chunk of this, and Emma has always been great at being likable - but she's also great at having fun with her roles. You can tell in this that she's having a blast with the transformation process, and when she gets to be full Cruella, she's really quite good. She even gets the cackle down.
All that said, it is true that I tend to love Emma Stone in whatever she's doing - not only is she gorgeous, but she's very flexible as an actress. She can sing, she can speak with an English accent (although sometimes her American comes through - she's no Robert Downy Jr.), she can laugh just as easily as cry, she's great. This is one role where we get a little bit of everything from her, and I'd probably take her rivalry with Emma Thompson as the highlight of the movie. Just two people trying to out-style each other. While Cruella's a bit more in your face and out to make a statement, the Baroness is this high class snob with little to no regard for human life, everyone's beneath her, and she feels she can't be outdone. What I love here is that Cruella actually intrigues the Baroness rather than just having her freak out and retaliate. It's a bit of a slow-burn rivalry they have. But I love it when the big baddie of the movie has respect for the... well, in this case, anti-hero.
This is another one of those titles I can definitely throw some respect to. My bias for Emma Stone aside, it's otherwise well-acted, has a surprising amount of heart, and it's just neat to see a Disney take on a heist movie. Really, Cruella is the perfect character to do something like that with. I do have a few beefs with the movie though, so don't think it's all praise coming from my end. For one, the CG is pretty awful when it does show up - namely one particular ending scene. Another is that some of the easter eggs are a bit heavy handed. At one point Cruella mentions Dalmations making a wonderful coat, but as a joke, and that was a bit of an eye-roller that felt crowbarred in. I also can't tell yet if my hatred of the Baroness is good or bad. She has to outdo Cruella, so the result is someone very, very easy to hate, especially if you despise snobbery as much as I do.
As decent as the movie was, and for as much praise as I give it over criticism, the one thing you should take away from this is the fact that the subject matter is something I couldn't care less about. While the heist aspect is cool, this largely has to do with fashion, high society and exclusivity. Speaking as someone who has very easily been turned away from various clubs because I wasn't wearing something as simple as dress shoes (meanwhile seeing a ton of running shoes waiting in line) I have a real beef with things like that. That's a lot of what this movie is, and the Baroness is just one of those characters I'd love to run down with a car. So this is one I have a lot of respect for as to what it is, but it's not something I intend on coming back to any time soon. Most definitely, others who are into fashion and the like will get much more out of it than I did. But it's still a nice change from the regular live-action Disney remakes!