Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the cruelest one of all? None other than Cruella De Vil herself. She’s one of Disney’s most iconic animated villains – and easily the best dressed character in their film library – and it’s for a few simple reasons: she wants to skin 99 (not 101, despite the animated film’s title) Dalmatian puppies to make a coat that will leave all of London gagging. And though Cruella has a point in how damn good that coat would look, there’s nothing more despicable to most humans than the idea of slaughtering cute, innocent little puppies. Now, she’s been given the same treatment that was afforded to Sleeping Beauty’s wicked fairy Maleficent with an origin story all her own.

Cruella is the best of the recent glut of Disney reimaginings by a country mile, even if only for one simple reason: this one actually comes up with an original story for the character, rather than treading old ground. Set in 1970s London, Cruella re-envisions the fashionista (Emma Stone) as a lowly thief named Estella who grew up pulling small heists and pickpocketing gigs after the tragic death of her mother. When she lands a job at a department store thanks to the help of her fellow crooks and only real family, Horace and Jasper (Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser, respectively), a drunken night at the store leads to a bold and daring window design, and although she’s fired on the spot, her work catches the eye of London’s most respected – and most vile – fashion queen, Baroness Hellman (Emma Thompson). She gets a job working at the Baroness’s fashion house, but when she discovers that the Baroness was the perpetrator of her mother’s death, Estella takes a step back, and pulls off her red wig to reveal the legendary split black and white hair, unleashing Cruella upon the Baroness as revenge. 

Needless to say, it’s all ridiculous, and better off for it. The film doesn’t overly shy away from the campier elements and the darker undertones; this is not a Disney film for the family, and in fact, it might be the first of these remakes to be explicitly aimed at people over the age of 16. While it’s still limited by the fact that this is a product made by the House of Mouse, there’s a lot of pleasure in watching the two Emmas snarl at each other for two hours. Thompson especially sinks her teeth into her role as the Baroness, relishing in the same brand of inhuman cruelty that Meryl Streep brought to the screen in The Devil Wears Prada. Stone finds the fun in playing a younger and softer (no urge to skin Dalmatians and no cigarettes in sight), but still villainous and mean Cruella. Paul Walter Hauser stands out among the supporting cast, embracing a Cockney accent and bringing some bright, bumbling energy to all his scenes. 

The best thing about this movie by far is the fashion, which is to die for. Designed by Oscar winning costume designer Jenny Beavan (A Room with a View, Howard’s End, Mad Max: Fury Road), the outfits fully embrace the punk uprising that took place in the 70s, with the different styles of Cruella and the Baroness saying more than their dialogue ever could. Cruella’s rebellious and outlandish outfits are heavily influenced by Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen, both of whom brought punk and new wave sensibility to the fashion world. It’s fashion as a revolution against the standards that British fashion had established for itself. The Baroness, who is the establishment, dresses in more sculptural clothing that recalls Christian Dior and Cristobal Balenciaga. She’s fashionable, but just a little behind the times. 

For all the silly pleasures and the sumptuous fashion, Cruella is not without its flaws. It’s too long at 134 minutes, the first act is a real slog to get through, and the musical score by Nicholas Britell is stomped upon by the overwhelming amount of needledrops. Some of these work (the Baroness enters to the sound of “Five to One” by The Doors, Cruella reveals her red dress at the Black and White ball to the opening notes of “Hush” by Deep Purple), while others… do not (Cruella’s impromptu fashion show in the park is set to “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by The Stooges, the movie ends on “Sympathy For The Devil” by The Rolling Stones). The less is said about the dismal CGI work and the muted color scheme, the better. The same goes for Cruella’s sidekick Artie (John McCrea), Disney’s seventh first openly gay character; though at least this one is harder to scrub away the gayness from. And while I wouldn’t recommend spending $30 on Disney+ for this, it’s worth a cheap matinee ticket to eat some trashy multiplex food and enjoy the battle of the Emmas on screen. 


C Review

coleduffy View All →

21, born and raised in Boston. Mamma Mia wine mom personality. Jerry Gogosian of the film world.

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