tek's rating:

Cruella (PG-13)
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This 2021 live-action film serves as a prequel to the 1996 live-action movie "101 Dalmatians" (which I haven't seen) and/or the 1961 animated film One Hundred and One Dalmatians. Or you could just take it as a stand-alone film (alternate continuity sort of thing). Anyway, I loved the movie, so it makes me more eager to watch the 1996 film. I should say I wasn't quite sure where to put my review. Some sites call it a crime film, so I went with that, but I think of it more as a drama or perhaps a dramedy (other sites call it a comedy). There certainly is crime involved, but I don't really think of that as the main thrust of the story. It's an origin story for the character Cruella de Vil, though here that's not her real name, it's Estella Miller. (Cruella is sort of an alternate personality that emerges.) I really enjoyed the story as well as the style of the movie, and I think it uses background songs very well in various scenes. The film is narrated to some extent by Cruella, who tells us at the start that she died, but of course we know that's not true, since she's still around in films that take place later. But the explanation of what she meant makes sense by the end of the movie.

It begins with Estella being born, with half white and half black hair. (Before I saw the movie, pictures of the adult Cruella reminded me of the singer Sia.) We quickly flash forward to Estella as a child who often gets into trouble at school (though it doesn't really seem to be her fault). She definitely has a defiant side, which her mother refers to as "Cruella", a side which she hopes Estella can put behind her. When Estella is 12, her mother withdraws her from school (just a moment before she would have been expelled), and they plan to move to London. But first, her mother makes a stop to ask a "friend" for money to help them start over. Instead, her mother ends up being knocked over a cliff to her death, by her friend's three Dalmatians. So Estella goes to London alone, where she meets two urchins named Jasper and Horace. The three of them grow up together as petty thieves, and Estella dyes her hair a single color. The movie then flashes forward ten years. (Estella is now played by Emma Stone.)

On her birthday, Jasper arranges for Estella to get a job at a fancy department store. Unfortunately, it's just a job as a janitor, and her boss has no interest in listening to her ideas about fashion. But one night when she's working late alone, she gets drunk and redoes the window display's mannequin. She gets fired, but a famous fashion designer named Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson) sees the display and likes it, so she hires Estella as part of her design team. Things seem to be looking up, but one day Estella sees the Baroness wearing a necklace that had belonged to Estella's mother, which the Baroness claimed had been stolen from her by a former employee. Estella doesn't believe her mother stole the necklace, so she enlists Jasper and Horace to help her steal it back. It's then that her "Cruella" personality reemerges, and she goes back to having black & white hair.

Well, there are a number of plot twists I don't want to reveal. But Cruella becomes a rival of the Baroness, and gains a lot of fame in the media, thanks in part to her old friend Anita Darling (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), who is now a gossip columnist. She also gets help from Artie, the owner of a vintage clothing store. Meanwhile, Jasper and Horace begin to resent the way Cruella treats them, and they miss Estella. She also eventually gets help from someone whose identity I don't want to spoil. In fact I don't want to spoil any more of the plot. I'll just say that Cruella seems pretty cool, not really like a villain. She really is great at fashion design, and has a great flair for publicity stunts (which don't exactly feel like crimes) at the expense of the Baroness's career. (And the Baroness proves to really deserve it.) And Cruella does finally reconcile with Jasper and Horace, who never gave up on her. But she'll never be Estella again. Oh, and there's a neat mid-credits scene.

crime index

live-action re-imaginings of animated (or partly animated) Disney movies
Disney Wiki; TV Tropes; Wikipedia

101 Dalmatians (1996) * Maleficent (2014) * Cinderella (2015) * Pete's Dragon (2016) * The Jungle Book (2016) *
Beauty and the Beast (2017) * Dumbo (2019) * Aladdin (2019) * Lady & the Tramp (2019) * Mulan (2020) * Cruella (2021) *
Pinocchio (2022) * Peter Pan & Wendy (2023) * The Little Mermaid (2023)
In Development: Snow White * Moana * Lilo & Stitch * et al.

I have a tendency to think of this trend as having started with "Maleficent," though I didn't think of it as a "thing" until "Cinderella" came out, and other re-imaginings had been announced. But then I started thinking I should include Alice in Wonderland (2010) as the start of the modern trend (but later decided against considering that part of the trend at all, since it's more of a sequel than a reimagining), as well as remembering that there were other such movies even before that. (I thought I might include 1994's "The Jungle Book", but later decided maybe not.) But particularly since "Cinderella," there have been increasing numbers of old animated Disney movies being remade or completely re-imagined, in live-action. There will be some things I don't include as part of this trend, like TV movies (such as "Geppetto"). And no straight-up modern sequels to old movies, even if they really feel to me like part of this trend (such as "Mary Poppins Returns"). Also no remakes of movies that were live-action to begin with (such as "That Darn Cat", "The Parent Trap", "Freaky Friday", etc.) And obviously no animated remakes of films (which I consider "The Lion King" to be), whether the original was animated or live-action. And no live-action re-imaginings of old Disney movies by other studios (such as "Snow White and the Huntsman" or "Mirror Mirror"). Also I won't bother listing sequels to re-imaginings, unless they're clearly re-imaginings of old sequels to the original movies; but that's just getting too complicated. As for 2016's "Pete's Dragon," that's complicated, itself, considering the original was mostly live-action, and only the dragon was animated. And of course in the remake, it's still just the dragon that's animated (this time as CGI), but I just can't help feeling like the remake is part of this overall trend. Especially considering that the "Jungle Book" movie that came out the same year uses a lot of CGI, itself.