Emma Stone’s ‘Cruella’ Divides Critics: ‘Stylish and Kinetic’ or ‘Exhausting’ and ‘Disorganized’

The Disney villain origin story with Emma Stone is “frustratingly inert considering how hard it works,” one critic writes

"Cruella" (Disney)

Cruella de Vil may be known for her iconic black and white look, but the reviews for the Disney villain’s origin story are too, with some critics loving the film’s stylish fashion sense and punk brand, while others were frustrated by the film’s length (at two hours and 15 minutes) and messy storytelling.

“There’s no denying that ‘Cruella’ is stylish and kinetic, with a nasty edge that’s unusual for a recent Disney live-action feature,” Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com writes in his review. “But it’s also exhausting, disorganized, and frustratingly inert, considering how hard it works to assure you that it’s thrilling and cheeky. You get forty minutes into it and realize the main story hasn’t started yet.”

“Cruella,” which stars Emma Stone as Cruella de Vil from “101 Dalmatians” and Emma Thompson as an even more monstrous fashion mogul the Baroness, quite often steal the show in Craig Gillespie’s film, with many critics praising the performances of both actresses.

“The result is a tale of two Emmas. Central, of course, is Stone, teasing out Estella’s encroaching evil while retaining all the charismatic screen presence that’s defined her career so far — and pulling off a decent British accent to boot,” Empire’s critic Ben Travis writes. “But it’s Emma Thompson who threatens to steal the film as The Baroness — a fashion boss whose cutthroat nature extends well beyond the catwalk. Whether she’s slashing at garments with a straight razor, loudly reading her own rave reviews, or calling people “imbeciles” with fatal levels of derision, she’s a killer creation. Thompson plays it to absolute perfection, running away with every scene she’s in.”

And yet even the critics who enjoyed “Cruella” couldn’t wholly shake the fact that it can feel as though Disney is dusting off an old character for a new generation, losing the villain side of Cruella that made her character most interesting.

“In its reluctance to embrace the fact that Cruella de Vil is, at the end of the day, a character whose claim to fame is really, really wanting to butcher innocent pets, the film feels like yet another indication of the limits of the contemporary movie industry’s habit of trying to milk old, familiar IP for the sake of built-in audience,” Slate’s Karen Han writes.

See some other review reactions to “Cruella,” which opens Friday in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access, below:

TheWrap – It’s a thrill to watch Stone jump back and forth between good-girl Estella and glamour-demon Cruella, even if the film gets bogged down in a subplot about how she’s not being nice enough to her lifelong sidekicks once the Cruella side takes over. Ultimately, it’s all she can do to hold her end of the screen opposite Thompson, sinking every last tooth into a role that’s half Miranda Priestley and half Reynolds Woodcock, mainly for the benefit of young viewers who haven’t yet seen either “The Devil Wears Prada” or “Phantom Thread.”

Empire – Kudos, then, to director Craig Gillespie for pulling off a live-action prequel that adds a few shades of grey without muddying the character one bit, leaning into Cruella’s inherent flamboyance for a slick and stylish clothing caper.

Indiewire – Stone is talented enough to ride the many vagaries of Estella and Cruella; the trappings around her can feel outsized and nutty, but she’s always believable. It’s a spectacle that only Disney could mount.

RogerEbert.com – It stars two Oscar-winning actresses, runs two hours and 14 minutes, and reportedly cost $200 million, a good chunk of it spent on an expansive soundtrack of familiar sixties and seventies pop songs. It never answers the burning question posed by its own existence, though: what new information could possibly make us sympathize with the original movie’s nuclear family-loathing, wannabe-dog-killing monster? The further away from “Cruella” that you get, the more its connection to “101 Dalmatians” seems a cynical attempt to leash an existing Disney intellectual property to a story that has no organic connection with it.

Chicago Sun Times – While overlong and at times too self-conscious in its quest for period-piece hipster status, “Cruella” is a visual feast, from the dizzying array of outfits designed by and worn by Emma Stone’s Estella/Cruella to some striking, glam-inspired makeup to dazzling set pieces with dozens of extras wearing amazing ensembles. Reynolds Woodcock from “The Phantom Thread” would pass out from the sheer overwhelming number of scenes involving fashion design.

Slate – All in all, “Cruella” is much better than it needs to be, and is hampered primarily by the fact that it’s a Disney movie, both in the sense that it has to heel to its animated and live-action predecessors, and in that making its main character a genuine antihero isn’t an option. As the main character of a Disney film, Cruella has to remain sympathetic, and as a Disney production, “Cruellahas to make some ham-handed attempts at moralizing. Those constraints might hold the movie back, but like the punks who inspired its costumes, it at least knows how to make bondage gear look good.

Vanity Fair – Cruella’s brand was, it seems, too valuable to be let to lie dormant. But, a movie about an outright villain probably wouldn’t do these days. Thus this wheezy attempt to give us the other side of the story, reducing the character to a tragic history bought wholesale from the content factory. Cruella is defanged retroactively before she’s really had a chance to do anything interesting. By the end of the film, it’s impossible to track, or imagine, how this Cruella becomes the future Cruella.

The AV Club – There are reasonable explanations for “Cruella’s” mix of tones and influences. Maybe it’s been tailored for a specific audience of preteens and young teenagers who are too old for Disney cartoons but not yet old enough for actual amoral antiheroes. Likewise, perhaps the film’s creators wanted to do something different with the material, only to see any sharp splinters they introduced sanded down on its trip through the Mouse House sawmill. “Cruella” can’t really be described as a big swing; Disney tends to its IP too assiduously to genuinely allow for one of those. But the film’s messiness can be begrudgingly admired, whether it’s intentional or not.

Screen Crush – I suspect some may give “Cruella” a pass simply because it does have a genuinely quirky vibe, along with a slightly darker than your standard Disney fare. The gonzo period fashions are fun as well. Ultimately, though, the film feels less like a satisfying character drama than a work of corporate rebranding — for Disney as well as for Cruella herself.


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