Disney does The Devil Wears Prada as a classic cartoon villainess gets an ultra hip, haute punk couture origin story. Emma Stone burns down the screen as the wickedly glamorous Cruella. The skunk-haired baddie from 101 Dalmatians earns her dastardly reputation going toe to toe with an equally formidable adversary. Co-star Emma Thompson gives Meryl Streep’s impersonation of Vogue editor Anna Wintour an acerbic run for the money. The Oscar-winning actresses dazzle in a film that’s short on plot, but looks and sounds amazing.
Cruella opens in mid-1960s rural England with a struggling single mother and fashion designer, Catherine (Emily Beecham), raising a mischievous daughter. Young Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) gets ridiculed at her snobby school for her odd black and white hair. She lashes out at her tormentors by creating a fierce new persona, Cruella. When Estella’s antics force them to move, Catherine seeks help from her previous employer. An encounter which leads to a devastating outcome.
Estella finds herself alone on the gritty streets of London. But a fateful meeting with two pickpocket boys, Jasper (Ziggy Gardner) and Horace (Joseph MacDonald), changes her luck. The trio become a family of clever thieves. Years later, a grown Estella (Emma Stone) yearns to be a designer like her mother. She idolizes the Baroness (Emma Thompson), the undisputed queen of 70s British couture. When Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) connive her into a boutique job, Estella’s meeting with the Baroness is destined. But she quickly learns the true nature of her vicious mentor. Cruella is once again unleashed in a ruthless battle with long-held secrets.
Cruella is a well-made and artistically driven film. Costume Designer Jenny Beavan (A Room with a View, Mad Max: Fury Road) needs to clear space on the shelf for a third Oscar. Her work here is truly stunning. The fashion war between Cruella and the Baroness is resplendent with eye-popping costumes. Director Craig Gillespie (The Finest Hours, I, Tonya) imagines a sumptuous high-fashion world. He has long tracking shots where the camera explores all the nooks and crannies of the intricate sets. Coupled with a non-stop soundtrack of hit oldies, Cruella’s filmmakers engulf the audience with creativity.
The character work by the ensemble cast is delightfully excessive. The two Emmas are front and center, but the supporting players ably fill their niche with a lot of physical comedy. Paul Walter Hauser’s Horace, and his larcenous one-eyed Chihuahua, had me howling with laughter. He’s the bungler in their heist schemes. The film also has the first openly gay and androgynous Disney character with Artie (John McCrea), a David Bowie inspired, Ziggy Stardust look-alike. His part is groundbreaking, but relatively small and shouldn’t be controversial. Fans of 101 Dalmatians will get a kick out of the famed characters’ live-action adaptations.
The bells and whistles make up for the narrative’s deficits. The plot is paper thin with little depth. Several reveals along the way aren’t too surprising, but fill in a proper backstory when needed. We find out why Cruella despises Dalmatians, which is integral to the character and source material. The film may run a bit long and is thematically dark for younger children. Cruella is a production of Gunn Films, Marc Platt Productions, and TSG Entertainment. It will be released May 28th concurrently in theaters and Disney+ with Premier Access.
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