Gorgeous and Vicious: Disney Hits Live Action Sweet Spot With Cruella

Cruella, set to be released on May 28, is a creative explosion of fashion, family and attitude.

It is a crisp, flashy, fun piece of cinema. While the realm of Disney live action films has faced mixed reviews to date, the Walt Disney Studios finds its footing with the latest Cruella. Ranking exceptionally high on my list of Disney live action film favorites, here are some of the reasons why.

The film is set in 1970s London and a charming aesthetic (fostered by a fitting soundtrack) captured me early on and stuck with me throughout. Emma Stone transforms as an actor on screen right before your very eyes. From Estella to Cruella, Stone handles the artful transition flawlessly. Perhaps it helped that Estella’s character was what I expected of a typical Emma Stone character – light-hearted outsider, artsy and with a goofy streak – but Cruella wowed me. You have not seen Emma Stone in a role like this before, and frankly, she is fabulous. Any prior concerns I had about casting Stone in the title role were completely unfounded.

Cruella’s character is bolstered by Emma Thompson’s deliciously wicked Baroness. I was delighted to see the Baroness get so much screen time – the film centers on Cruella and the Baroness in such a way that makes them shine alongside one another, without either playing second fiddle to the other. (This is kind of poetic justice for these narcissistic types, which is clever enough and subtle enough to impress an analytical audience. A worthy victory for the film’s writers.)

The story itself is strong and holds its own against what could otherwise have been a substance-less backdrop of glitz, glamor and high fashion. In addition to my original uncertainty about Stone’s casting, another concern I had watching the various trailers and previews was that story and character development might get lost in favor of jaw-dropping costumes and extravagant sets. But nay, the film is not without a great story and obviously great costumes. Win-win.

In this way, Cruella’s marketing is also a success because any sneak peeks that you may have seen to date do not give too much away. I am often critical of premature overexposure of upcoming films – it is as if the studios are desperate and trying too hard to lure in an audience by oversharing. This often deters me from seeing the film because it feels like I have already seen everything in the seemingly endless number of trailers and promos. This is not the case here. Cruella has so much more to offer than what you have already seen or might expect. Just you wait.

That said, Cruella would not be Cruella without fashion, dogs, erratic driving, Horace, Jasper and the appropriate amount of “dahling!”. This film does not disappoint when it comes to these expectations either. In fact, in yet another hat-tip to the writers, while being so engrossed in the new story they were telling, it was like a special treat to spot such tributes to the infamous villain as they arose. I had forgotten to expect traditional references because I was so interested in the new tale unfolding before me. Nonetheless, Paul Walter Hauser and Joel Fry are excellent as Cruella’s henchmen and Fry in particular adds an intriguing new dimension to Jasper. All the animals in the film get starring roles which adds a strong dose of family fun to the film. (You will fall in love with Wink, trust me.) My favorite old-school Disney moment was in one scene where Horace makes a comment about dogs looking like their owners. If you remember Disney’s animated 101 Dalmations, you too may get a kick out of this nod to the 1961 film.

Like Goldilocks, Cruella is just right. The perfect amount of intriguing story dolled up with wow-factor fashion, loveable characters and unforeseen plot twists. The cherry on top is that it is peppered with classic traits and tributes we know and love. Disney Studios has (some might say finally) struck the right balance in respecting the old and wholly investing in the new. Where few risks were taken in previous Disney live action films, Cruella pushes boundaries and miraculously takes all the right risks. In one scene, the Baroness describes her favorite combination as “gorgeous and vicious” – Cruella is just that, and I encourage you to see so for yourself on May 28.

Cruella will debut on Disney+ with premiere access and in theaters next Friday.

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Jess Salafia Ward is an Aussie, an attorney and a die-hard Disney fan. She is an Elvis-lover like Lilo, and when she doesn't have her nose stuck in a book, Jess delights in sharing with fellow fans all things pop culture, movies, books and history.