The third live-action adaptation of Dodie Smith‘s 1956 novel “The Hundred and One Dalmatians” was announced by Disney in 2013. I wasn’t too much into the idea since I barely remembered the animated movie or the Glenn Close ones. Then Maleficent came along and didn’t know what to expect from this movie since they did a 180 on that vilain. Casting Emma Stone (The Help) in the title role did not help in that matter because I can’t think of a movie where she is the vilain. She’s a brilliant actress but a vilain? I wasn’t sure.
However the rest of the cast is so strong that I couldn’t ignore this movie, there’s Emma Thompson (MWC, Creatures), Mark Strong (Sleep, Game), Joel Fry (Benjamin, Paddington 2, GoT), Paul Walter Hauser (Richard Jewell, BlacKkKlansman, Kingdom), Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Killing Eve), John McCrea (Dracula, The Sandman) & Emily Beecham (Outside the Wire, Into the Badlands). I, Tonya‘s Craig Gillespie is directing with a screenplay by Dana Fox (Home Before Dark) and Tony McNamara (The Great) from a story by Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada), Kelly Marcel (Venom, Mr. Banks), and Steve Zissis (The Comey Rules, Togetherness).
Premise: Estella is a creative child with an interest in fashion but has a cruel streak, leading her mother Catherine to nickname her “Cruella”. After a tragic night during which Estella is orphaned, she flees to London where she meets two petty thieves Jasper and Horace. Ten years later, Estella is making ends meet as a thief with Jasper and Horace while pursuing her passion for fashion by designing their disguises. In an attempt to go straight, she eventually lands a coveted job with the Baroness, who is a renowned but authoritarian haute couture designer. Working for the Baroness something from her childhood resurfaces leading Estella to lean into her darker side.
Review: If it wasn’t for the trailers I am not sure if the first fifteen minutes of the movie would have been enough for me to keep watching. I liked the idea and how it sets up the movie but the execution was a bit rough. Once that bridge is crossed the movie gets better.
Story wise there has a lot of setup, in fact an argument could be made that this movie is all setup, since it’s an origin movie and a good amount of its runtime is on building the characters. So it might seem a bit slow to get going but that’s offset by the fashion elements that are visually striking and the comedic tone. This movie is dripping with cynicism and style, it’s darkly funny and has so many great character moments, even the CGI dogs were great.
From what I remember from The Hundred and One Dalmatians, Cruella was just crazy, charismatic yes but cray cray. Here she’s still charismatic but more unhinged and calculating, there’s a genius to her madness. She’s ambitious and scrappy and I liked it. She’s not afraid to use her friends, and I do mean use them like tools, on her pursuit of power. And having spent time getting to know Estella with her friends Jasper and Horace, it’s more striking when that shift happens as she leans into her darker side.
The ensemble cast is great, even though Emma Stone and Emma Thompson deliver amazing performances. I love how the two women contrast each other, not in a good versus bad, more in a bad versus worse with an understanding that the bad, which is Cruella, can easily turn into the worse, which is the Baroness, because power corrupts and there’s even glimpses of this in Cruella’s behavior. I liked the begrudging respect the two had for each other, making their battle of wits more entertaining, and I love how these two women are essentially competing for a job. John McCrea‘s Artie is unapologetically queer and totally pulling a Noel Fielding and I’m here for it. Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hausser were great and kind of the heart of the movie for me because like Mark Strong‘s character they’re the goodish guys. With Fry’s Jasper being the one able to rein Cruella in a bit. And as for Anita and Roger are so smartly cast and used in this movie but they remain more of a tease to what’s to come.
Cruella is a fun dark movie which is beautifully styled from the characters, to the sets and the soundtrack. It’s worth the watch.
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