Despite being a supervillain origin story prequel based on a 60-year-old animated movie, “Cruella” still confounds expectations in many delightful ways. There is much to be credited to Stone and Thompson – both Emmas shine through. The film might have been influenced by “101 Dalmatians,” but this version centers around an exciting catfight.
Glenn Close portrayed Cruella de Vil in the live-action version of “Dalmatians,” setting the bar high for canine-hating villains. Disney is now extending its marketing efforts to accessories for the Disney brand. Nevertheless, Stone makes the character her own — her leather outfits and purring are as much Catwoman as any — and finds a worthy antagonist in Thompson. The two ladies model a parade of dresses that would suggest that the costumes and sets designers were having a great time.
In addition to Disney+ (just like “Mulan”) and theaters as well, “Cruella” has a surprising running time of two hours and fifteen minutes, overstaying its welcome a little. However, it may work well on the smaller screen because of its extended running time. As well, while children might like it, “Cruella” is dark in a way that could easily elude them, making it more appealing to adults who value punk-rock-tinged films.
Disney has traditionally fared better with routine adaptations — think “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin” — than more adventurous ones like “Dumbo.” So the very reason that “Cruella” was a pleasant surprise might work against it commercially.
It seems like Disney’s risk in tapping Craig Gillespie (“I, Tonya”) for directing this movie will pay off. The script is a joint collaboration between several writers, among them Dana Fox (“Couples Retreat”), Tony McNamara (“The Favourite”), and Aline Brosh McKenna (“The Devil Wears Prada”). The original source material is based on a novel by Dodie Smith. The plot is exciting and is based in 1960: Young Estella sees her mother commit suicide after her plea for money is denied by a fashion diva named the Baroness (played by Emma Thompson). Accidently, the Baroness owns several spotted dogs.
Ten years later, Estella grows up and hones her thieving skills on the streets. She gets hired by the Baroness; she begins plotting revenge, creating Cruella as a kind of fashion vigilante. Cruella does thus operate like a caper movie at times while drawing on a seemingly unlimited song budget. The music sets a mood and atmosphere that is reminiscent of the ’70s. At first glance, Cruella and the Baroness find themselves in a showdown of hearts and minds, the latter finally facing an opponent who can match her extreme cruelty.
As the Baroness sneers, “Me or Cruella,” she shows unexpected admiration. We won’t spoil the movie for you, but we’ll only say the following: the movie “Cruella” won’t be to everyone’s taste, but to borrow from the original song, if Stone and Thompson duking it out doesn’t satisfy you at least a little, there is no evil in the world that will.