Emma Stone stars as Cruella de Vil, the villain of Disney’s animated 101 Dalmatians, prior to her arrival as the cigarette-smoking, Darling family-terrorizing animal killer. When the audience meets Cruella, she’s still going by Estella, the daughter of a poor seamstress. Entered in a posh private school, Estella befriends Anita Darling, finds herself terrorized by the rich boys for her two-tone hair and threadbare clothes, and ultimately expelled for fighting back.
Fleeing for a better life in London, her mother stops momentarily at the estate of the Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), and Estella’s actions lead to her mother’s death by way of a trio of Dalmatians. On her way to rising as a fashion designer, Estella falls in with two thieves (Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser), and finds a family of sorts, before ending up under the tutelage of the Baroness herself at an upper design company in London. Soon, the two designers will be rivals but Estella has more at stake than the Baroness, because Estella doesn’t just want to succeed; she wants revenge.
While the film has funny moments, the lighter-hearted first half gives way to a darker, deeper exploration of character, a look at nature versus nurture. There is some cartoonish violence here, but most of the heaviness is in the subject of revenge, rather than any real use of profanity, violence, etc. The film has a whimsical tone to it, and it’s charming really, even if the subject is unpleasant at times. In an unexpected way, Cruella makes the audience cheer for the title character, having understood exactly what shaped her decisions.
The Dove Take:
While an incredibly creative reimagining, Cruella earns Dove Approval for 12+ because of its darker moments.