She’s the mistress of monochrome malice, one of the most memorable big screen villains – and she’s famously none too keen on dalmatians. Cruella de Vil started life with Disney sixty years ago in animated form and returned as played by Glenn Close in the live action version of 101 Dalmatians in the late 90s. Now she’s back with a vengeance. Literally. Cruella takes us back to her teenage years and her rise in the London fashion industry. In other words, it’s an origins story, but hold fire on that sigh of despair. Because this gloriously outrageous piece of entertainment had this reviewer grinning happily behind her mandatory mask for all of its (admittedly bloated) two and a quarter hours running time. More of that in a moment.
Born with her trademark two tone hair and a talent for fashion, the young Cruella is a misfit at school and, after the loss of her mother, goes off the rails and puts her talents to good use, working with con artists Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser, with an accent straight out of the Jason Statham Book Of Elocution). But, in an effort to go straight, she takes on a menial job at Liberty’s where her paths cross with world-famous designer The Baroness (Emma Thompson) and she soon finds herself on the way up in the fashion world. The discovery of a darker side to her boss – one that connects them personally – puts revenge on the cards and introduces the world to Cruella (Emma Stone), who will stop at nothing to outshine the fashion queen and bring her down.
Looks are everything – stunning makeup, extravagant clothes, spectacular hair – and it all comes together in mouth-wateringly memorable style, but there is more to Cruella than appearances, brilliantly executed though they are. And right at the top of the list comes the Emma double-whammy of Stone and Thompson as Cruella and her nemesis, The Baroness. They’re a formidable duo – Stone the spirited and determined punk girl, Thompson the aristocrat of couture with a look of disdain swiped straight from Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond – and they both attack their roles with irresistible relish. Their relationship is close to being a warped version of the Hathaway/Streep duo in The Devil Wears Prada, only here the real devil wears dalmatian.
Add to that some sparkling set pieces – Cruella’s first public appearance at the black and white ball is a knock out – and a banging period soundtrack including the likes of Debbie Harry and Pink Floyd, and you have a film that satisfies on a number of levels. The production values are high, even by Disney standards, the acting’s great and there’s more than enough laughs and action, but this isn’t your usual House Of Mouse family fodder, targeting instead the teenage and adult audiences and giving them plenty of bangs for their bucks. It’s not without its faults. Losing one of those extravagant balls would have helped with the running time and you keep wondering when the simmering relationship between Estella/Cruella and Jasper is going to develop into something. The film also continually dodges the more vicious side of Cruella’s which, for fans of the earlier films, may seem something of an omission.
But, in truth, Cruella is a solid gold – or should that be black and white? – blast. Its strengths more than compensate for its failings and, as origins stories go, this one will take some beating. As cinemas enter their third week of re-opening, one that includes a school holiday, this should keep the momentum going and help tempt even more people to return to the big screen experience. The Cruella cosplay parties won’t be far behind …..
Drama, Comedy | Cert: 12A | Disney | Cinemas and Disney+ | 28th May 2021 | Dir. Craig Gillespie | Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Mark Strong.