Cruella de Vil may not be a great Disney villain, but she certainly has the best theme song. Now, she also has a splashy origin story movie, arriving just in time to tempt audiences back into movie theaters over the Memorial Day weekend.
Emma Stone stars as Estella, a young orphan who’s living on the streets. She’s a petty thief, but dreams of a life in the fashion industry. Apparently sewing disguises for your street gang’s criminal endeavors will teach you everything you need to know about the world of high fashion.
Emma Thompson plays the Baroness, the reigning queen of London’s fashion industry. She sees plenty of potential in Estella, so she hires the girl, thinking that she can steal her ideas. Estella fights back by reinventing herself as Cruella, a mysterious new designer who is obsessed with destroying the Baroness and laying ruin to her fashion empire.
It’s a complicated plot, and you may notice that I haven’t said anything about dogs. “Cruella” may be a prequel of sorts to “101 Dalmatians,” but it struggles to connect to original film’s tone or characters. There are a few quick references peppered throughout the film, but “Cruella” is far more interested in being a campy battle of wills than in connecting to its source material.
Despite what Disney may hope parents will believe, this is not a story about cute talking puppies out on an adventure. This is a film about female obsession that features murder, arson and all manner of criminal behavior in between. It’s not a film aimed at young children first, as is the case with most Disney fare.
This is a film aimed more at mom and dad. The campy acting is a hoot, and the film features killer visual images and costumes, plus a pop music soundtrack that is better than my Hits of the 70’s Spotify playlist. Supertramp, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, the Bee Gees, the Doors, Blondie, Nina Simone, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Ike and Tina Turner all pop up on this soundtrack.
On top of all of this is the battle of wills between the two Emmas. Stone turns in a nice performance as our half-mad anti-heroine, but Thompson nearly steals the show here. Her character commands every single scene, making her into the real stand out in the movie. Who knows — perhaps we’ll get a Baroness origin story one day as well?
“Cruella” ends up being an odd film considering it’s Disney origin, but between the amazing costume and set design, nostalgic soundtrack and two fun central performances, this is a film that mom and dad should love, even if their kids may prefer to revisit “101 Dalmatians” on home streaming instead.