No, even though Cruella ends up getting her notorious name while rock music is blaring in this period piece, it's not from Mötley Crüe as it's too early for those types of rock tunes. We get introduced to her as Estella in the 60s and 70s (Emma Stone as the adult version, Tipper Seifert-Cleveland as a kid) when she's still a rebellious kid who doesn't fit in at school which leads her and her mother Catherine (Emily Beecham) relocating to London for a new start. Per Disney standards, the parent dies and Estella is left to survive on her own, before she makes acquaintance with two other teen orphans, Jasper (Joel Fry the adult, Ziggy Gardner the kid) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser the adult, Joseph MacDonald the kid). When Estella is an adult, she gets to work as a fashion designer for fashion mogul Baroness (Emma Thompson) who had a part in Catherine's death. Fashionable revenge tale ensues and that is truly when the film kicks into gear as it is lavishly crafted, mostly entertaining and enjoyably acted with some unneeded filler.
I'm not going to lie, first 20 minutes of Cruella definitely gave some doubts about what was ahead as the setup played out just as typically as you might expect from movies with origin stories. There were plenty of needle drops to transition you in and out of scenes, bunch of narration to guide you, plus a sequence which would give Estella her motivation felt a bit rushed. But then when Stone, Fry and Hauser came on board, the plot and the performances quickly made the second act rather thrilling in fact and that act, I think, rivals anything that Disney has put out in last few decades. Also helpful is that every actor beyond the star Stone brings something different in their roles - Thompson and Stone go toe to toe in several scenes in terms of quality, Fry and Hauser are able to carry scenes by themselves, John McCrea (as Artie) will probably be the breakout star of the movie and Mark Strong (as John) brings in some dramatic realism. All the kids and adults seem perfectly suited for their characters, cast by Lucy Bevan and Mary Vernieu.
Cruella's PG-13 rating looks to have helped director Craig Gillespie, writers Dana Fox and Tony MacNamara as well as the crew since the revenge tale of it all does become bleak and thematically heavy at times, setting it somewhat apart from other Disney's live-action displays of recent years. A lot of it is represented in the visuals like in Fiona Crombie's classy production design and Jenny Beavan's ever-transforming costumes so even when every scene doesn't feel substantial, there is something for your eyes to behold. Composer Nicholas Britell brings out couple glorious cues but he is too often battling with never-ending needle drops changing the mood suddenly, Cruella does run 134 minutes long and some of the first and third acts have that aforementioned filler where the music gets a bit overbearing. There is still much more singularity and ambition, namely in that second act, that it feels like this film should really be the one that people should return to, instead of those few soulless remakes.
Smileys: Production design, casting, costume design
Frowneys: Some issues with premise and runtime
So why isn't this 101 minutes? Was everyone asleep at the wheel? What a bummer.