When Disney announced a live action origin story for “Cruella”, aka “Cruella de Vil” the villain from 101 Dalmatians, many wondered, how is that going to work?
A film about an evil mastermind who skins Dalmatians to make her overcoat, the very antithesis of Disney.
However hats off and very haute couture hats they are, to the creative team who have crafted a film with a nod to the past, yet cleverly integrating modern world sensibilities. At the same time, providing scenery chewing parts for both Emma Thompson and Emma Stone.
Following an opening segment, as young “Estella” endures personal trauma due to The Baroness’s (Thompson) pack of, you guessed it, Dalmatians. More than enough for any child to develop an early canine dislike.
Newly orphaned, young Estella realises she has nowhere to go. Travelling to a stylised 1970’s London she falls in with a couple of likeable Dickensian Artful Dodger type young criminals “Jasper” (Joel Fry) and “Horace” (Paul Walter Hauser). The group create a juvenile crime spree in a fictionalised London town, with Estella evolving into Cruella (Stone) a Fagin like character, directing the junior criminal enterprise.
As Estella grows up, her early interest in fashion continues to blossom, eventually landing a dream job at Liberty, which in reality involves cleaning toilets, not part of her master-plan. However, following a chance encounter she falls into the orbit of the Baroness and works her way up to become PA and pet designer.
Estella is faced with a choice, pursue her career as designer/exec gofer or exact terrible revenge on those who have wronged her. The film is called Cruella for a reason, so no prizes for guessing the career path chosen.
The film is directed with style and flair with outrageous costumes, yet manages to establish and retain the right tone throughout, no mean feat given the basic plot outline.
Both Thompson and Stone are clearly having a blast, changing into elaborate and imaginative costumes in almost every scene, each one more over the top than the last.
Both actresses are in fine form, with Stone clearly relishing every evil look and yet manages to shoehorn in some serious acting when nobody is watching. Thompson is on top form, deploying withering put downs, dripping with derision at every opportunity.
Stone also receives fine comedic support from her two partners in crime, Jasper and Horace together with their resourceful pet dog, not destined for a coat any time soon. The straight man to all the madness, is played by “John The Valet” (Mark Strong), trading loyalties until his intentions become clear.
The film manages to reinvent itself and neatly sidesteps any “coat made from dogs” issues, so even ankle biters will have no clue what lies behind the story.
This is marvellous hyper-real, comic, family fun which proves Disney’s occasionally questionable desire to create live action versions of their entire back catalogue, can work well.
In this instance creating an origin story for what came before, adding to the original animated classic and more recent live action “101 Dalmatians“.