Cruella: Emma Stone-Led Prequel Is Disney’s Joker

Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo by Laurie Sparham. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Cruella, a prequel that absolutely nobody asked for, is the Disney version of 2019’s stand-alone Joker as the film seeks to humanify the villain.

This film runs 134 minutes. Ahead of the press screening, I decided to rewatch both 101 Dalmatians and 102 Dalmatians. These two films were among Disney’s first foray into live-action adaptations of their animated films. Maybe it was a sign of things to come but in this particular instance, neither film is good. And in hindsight, I should not have subjected myself to watching films where a villain is a puppy killer. Glenn Close tries her best but it’s very hard to root for someone who wants to kill puppies for their spots. And so, coming into the press screening, you could say that I wasn’t really in the mood to see how a villain became a villain. Honestly, if this is going to be a new film trend, please count me out.

I don’t have much to say about Cruella that’s positive. There’s the costume design and makeup/hairstyling but aside from this, not much. The costume design will almost certainly be an awards contender as it should be. But beyond this, Emma Thompson’s shoulders must be hurting when it comes to trying to save the film with her humor. Or maybe that’s a British humor thing. I don’t know. The Baroness von Hellman isn’t a nice character. Even when we take a mentorship into account, one can see how Cruella ends up the way she does. But even beyond that, it’s hard to see how Estella (Emma Stone), as Cruella was once called, could be so cruel to dogs after taking in a stray. Emma Stone is a great actress and in this film, she brings a villain to life but again, they are humanizing a villain.

Following her mother’s tragic death, a 12-year-old Estella makes her way to London where she first meets Horace (Joseph MacDonald) and Jasper (Ziggy Gardner). The trio are all alone and basically have to fend for themselves. Upon turning 25, Jasper (Joel Fry) helps Estella get a job working at Liberty. Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), meanwhile, will miss committing crimes with her. Cut to happenings later on and Estella fully becomes the persona we all know as Cruella and she’s hellbent on revenge. Say what I will about the film but Fry and Hauser could be a fine comedy duo in their own right. I can’t wait to see what Hauser can do when he has an opportunity to lead a comedy.

The film is set in the 1970s so one is led to believe that this film is a prequel. That’s what I certainly thought going into the film. However, it appears to be set in a different universe. One where Roger and Anita are not the ones who grow up to be Jeff Daniels and Joely Richardson. The Anita Darling (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) of this film is a schoolmate but becomes a journalist rather than a fashion designer. Roger (Kayvan Novak) happens to be a lawyer for the Baroness instead of a game designer. The filmmakers pay homage to the animated film by fully recreating his flat for the film. The credits also make reference to puppies named Pongo and Perdita. If you recall, Roger and Anita own Pongo and Perdita in the original films, respectively.

At some point, we need to discuss the fact that origin stories are nothing but a way of saying that studios can’t come up with original content anymore. What’s next? Willy Wonka getting his name from a candy bar? I can’t speak for others but I personally didn’t need a Cruella De Vil origin story. And she gets her last name from…a car?!? How very Solo-esque of Disney! If you want to talk laziness in movies, this is as lazy as things can get.

I know that several people worked hard this film and it pains me to pan their work. It always pains me to pan films. But at the end of the day, I just don’t feel this film is necessary. Disney is doing the same thing with Cruella that DC did with Joker in that they are humanizing a villain. I still have a lot of PTSD when it comes to the 2019 film because of the death threats. Make no mistake about it: villains are villains.

It’s hard for one to get on board with feeling empathy for Cruella when we know she will one day be terrorizing animals.

DIRECTOR: Craig Gillespie
SCREENWRITERS: Dana Fox and Tony McNamara
CAST: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Mark Strong

Disney will release Cruella in theaters and Disney+ Premier Access on May 28, 2021.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.