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Arts and Culture

'Cruella' Review With Casey

Oscar-winner Emma Stone (Battle of the Sexes, 2017) plays the title role in the dark and snazzy origin story of Cruella DeVil, one of the most flamboyant villains in the canon of Disney animated films who was first brought to life on the big screen in 1961's One Hundred and One Dalmatians (and followed by a handful of sequels and remakes).

This origin story shows Cruella long before her obsession with spotted fur. Starting out as Estella, an orphaned girl turned pickpocket with dreams of being a fashion designer, she gets a job working under a famed fashion house in punk 1970s London where she gradually embraces her alter ego of vanity, cruelty, and revenge.  

Cruella was mostly a fun experience because it wasn't preoccupied with keeping its characters or events surrounded in sweetness and sunshine. Disney producers often seem too concerned about meeting a self-imposed quota of roses and daisies in their films all in the name of brand integrity. The live-action remakes of Dumbo (2019) and Aladdin (2019) were eternally devoted to nothing but beautiful scenery, and the film Maleficent (2014) was only passionate about telling a redemption story of a misunderstood woman. But Cruella leans away from that sweetness and redemption (with the exception of a tiny black dog occasionally disguised as a rat). 

Having two, bold, leading, female characters in the same film, neither of whom are interested in being likable or thinking about romantic feelings with anyone, is a rarity. Maybe that's part of what makes Cruella so delicious. Emma Stone's Cruella is a street-smart grifter with a talent for boisterous counter-culture and flirting with trouble. Emma Thompson, (Late Night, 2019) as her mentor, is a gracefully condescending symbol of the establishment who chews her scenery with a quietly controlled abandon. 

The humor in the screenplay is banal and juvenile (mostly from Cruella's partners in crime), and the plot twists are predictable. But those things didn't really matter to me, because the two female leads have so much fun in their layered roles. The film is dark, and its narrative energy remains mischievous and sly even though some scenes could have been trimmed to quicken the pace. Dramatic costumes paired with rock music by Queen, the Electric Light Orchestra, Florence and the Machine, and the Doors make for a lively time at the movies. Cruella felt a bit like The Devil Wears Prada (2006) meets Joker (2019) with the story of a social outcast, lots of intricate gowns, and dangerous female rage.

Thank goodness the director, Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya, 2017), was allowed to embrace the darker side of this story. Maybe Disney producers will learn sweetness and sunshine are not so important.