Review by Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times
Imagine “The Devil Wears Prada” on steroids, set in ’70s London, with Anne Hathaway’s character vengeful rather than sweet. Sounds kind of great, right?
When I first heard about “Cruella,” the live-action Disney origin story of the “101 Dalmatians” villain Cruella de Vil, I may have rolled my eyes a bit. This is me going back in time to retract that eye-rolling: “Cruella” is an absolute kick, and if you’ve been looking for a reason to go back to movie theaters, here it is.
It’s coming to streaming platform Disney Plus this weekend.
The fashion alone, designed by the great Jenny Beavan (an Oscar winner for “A Room with a View” and “Mad Max: Fury Road”), is worth the ticket price; if that doesn’t do it for you, there’s also slyly brilliant work from the two Emmas — Stone and Thompson — working hard to upstage the gorgeous outfits in which they’re swathed.
Directed by Craig Gillespie (“I, Tonya,” “Lars and the Real Girl”), “Cruella” feels like a wildly imaginative superhero movie, but with fashion instead of superpowers. (Actually fashion is the superpower.) It begins, as all origin stories do, with a flashback: Young Estella — Cruella is a teasing nickname her loving mother gives her, for the little girl’s dark side — struggles to fit in as a child, thanks to her two-toned hair and quick temper. Her mother agrees that the two of them should move to London, but something terrible happens on the way.
Fast-forward 15 years or so and Estella (Stone) is an embittered grifter, surviving on her street smarts but dreaming of being a fashion designer. An opportunity at a famous London department store — Liberty’s, beautifully handling its star turn — turns into a job with The Baroness (Thompson), the world’s most famous couturier.
Need I tell you that Stone and Thompson make formidable opponents? Stone, speaking in a dark-syrup British accent, makes Estella/Cruella slightly feral and wickedly smart; she’s got a way of narrowing her eyes at people that makes you worry that they might burst into flames. (At one point, appropriately, she wears a red gown seemingly made of fire.)
Thompson, tottering around under turbans and enormous pastries of hair — the Baroness’ look is slightly dated; Estella’s is up-to-the-minute London punk — is a queen who’s scornful of her kingdom. “Go” is her most frequent word, delivered witheringly; though I quite liked her clenched-teeth delivery, to a luckless maid, of “You’re. In. The Way.” Though there’s never any doubt who will prevail in this battle of wills — the movie isn’t called “Baroness,” after all — it’s a fair fight, and you find yourself rooting for both of them.
Crammed full of ’70s music and insanely chic eye candy, “Cruella” is a more-is-more treat, right down to its unexpectedly sweet coda (stick around as the credits start). Bring on the summer movie season! If the rest are as much fun as this … well, that’s what we all deserve right now, isn’t it?
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