‘Cruella’ is an unexpected treat, with Emma Stone’s dark spin on the Disney villain’s origins
Disney’s latest brand extension comes a quarter century after Glenn Close portrayed Cruella de Vil in the live-action “Dalmatians,” setting a high bar for dog-hating villainy.
Stone, however, makes the younger version of the character her own — she’s as much Catwoman with her leather outfits and purred dialogue — and finds a worthy antagonist in Thompson, with the two modeling a parade of frocks that suggest the costume and set designers were having the time of their lives.
The cited source material is the novel by Dodie Smith, but let’s face it, Disney wants you to go stream the earlier movies later, not read a book. The plot, while naturally peppered with callbacks, is relatively simple: It’s the 1960s, and Young Estella sees her mother die after she’s gone to beg for money from a fashion diva known as the Baroness (Thompson), who happens to own several spotted dogs.
Flash forward a decade, and the urchin has grown up into Stone, getting by mostly as a thief with her pals Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser). Landing a job with the Baroness, Estella begins plotting her revenge, creating Cruella as a kind of fashion vigilante alter ego.
“Cruella” thus operates like a caper movie at times, while drawing on a seemingly unlimited song budget that nicely sets the ’70s mood and atmosphere. Foremost, the Cruella-Baroness showdown becomes a battle of wills and wits, with the latter having finally found an opponent who can challenge her ruthlessness.
“She has made it me or her,” the Baroness sneers, after expressing grudging admiration for Cruella, “and I choose me.”
In fashion terms, it’s less “Who wore it better” than “Who wore it nastier,” and both excel. “Cruella” won’t be to everyone’s taste, but to borrow from the original song, if Stone and Thompson squaring off doesn’t entertain you at least a little, no evil thing will.
“Cruella” premieres May 28 in theaters and for a premium fee on Disney+. It’s rated PG-13.