Emma Stone doesn’t see spots; she sees style and character as the Disney villainess.
The Disney animated “101 Dalmatians” from 1961 was a childhood favorite of mine for all the right reasons. It also crafted one of the most iconic Disney villainess-Cruella de Vil, who wears a fur coat, has a cigarette holder, and plans to murder Dalmatians to make fur coats out of them with the help of her bumbling henchmen-Horace and Jasper.
Then in 1996 and 2000, Glenn Close did a nice job portraying her, although those movies had nothing on the cartoons. And now, in 2021, Emma Stone uses an English accent for the first time since “The Favourite” as Cruella, who leads fans hints at how she came to be. This movie, titled “Cruella” (obviously), doesn’t exceed the delightfulness of the animated feature, but it’s still smarter and more stylish than the live-action movies.
The movie, unlike the others is rated PG-13, which means it tackles on some serious subjects, so it’s not one for the little tykes (they’re better off seeing the animated movies and shows on Disney+). And speaking of Disney+, “Cruella” is being released in theaters and on the streaming service simultaneously. This one is more for older kids, teenagers, and adults-all of whom are fans of the Disney classic and book by Dodie Smith.
We’re in the 60s and 70s London, and we see little Cruella, or Estella as she was originally named (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) with an ambition for fashion deigning and an attitude that gets her expelled from school. She was also born with that black and white hairstyle, which I never really knew was a genetic trait. I thought she just dyed it, or something. Anyway, she witnesses her mother (Emily Beecham) being murdered, and now, she’s an orphan, who teams up with little Horace and Jasper to steal for survival.
Now, we enter the Punk Rock Movement, when Estella (now played by Stone and disgusting her hair with a red wig) lands a crappy job at a fashion store, vindicates a display, and wins the attention of the spoiled and pompous Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), who immediately hires her. Weeks in, Estella discovers that the Baroness is wearing her mother’s family heirloom, and asks Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (Joel Fry) to help steal it back, but the plot thickens for her, which leads her to becoming a vigilante known as Cruella.
There are a few Dalmatians in the movie, but too bad most of their scenes have to paint them in CGI, so they’re neither Pongo nor Perdita, and they have nothing on the puppies rolling around in the soot in the animated feature. But the best dog here is Horace’s tiny one-eyed dog, who makes me laugh every time I see him in a rat costume, as part of the would-be elaborate plan to steal back the heirloom. In fact, Walter steals the comedy spotlight as Horace, and both he and that dog have their moments. When he and Fry refuse to suck up to the “Home Alone” gimmicks, because the 1996 film was written by John Hughes, they both play the bumbling henchmen with energy.
I’m seeing “Cruella” in a way that the 2014 “Maleficent” (not its pathetic sequel) and “Joker” presented their villains. They play them on their own terms, and Stone is well cast. She’s fun, ambitious, and daring, but mostly, she’s fun. At this point in the new decade, you couldn’t think of any young actress to introduce us to Cruella’s beginnings better than Stone. She uses the accent, hairstyles, and passion very well. Betty Lou Gerson (who voiced Cruella in the animated feature) would have loved to see her, and it’s also iconic when Close serves as an executive producer on this.
I’ve already singled Walter and Fry for delivering the goods as Horace and Jasper, but Thompson also plays the Baroness with an arrogant charisma that makes her a likable villain. Mark Strong provides some value as her valet, who is more than meets the eye. Why? I can’t spoil for you. And we also have John McCrea as Cruella’s fashion designer confidant with a Billy Idol-like hairstyle.
Look, I get the picture. We’re in a time when spin-offs, sequels, reboots, and remakes are polarizing movie-goers. Believe me I understand the situation and I agree and disagree simultaneously on various occasions. Now, you’re asking me: “How can I agree and disagree?” My answer: it all depends on how the movie plays out, and I’ve had my shares for likes and dislikes, believe me. “Jay & Silent Bob Reboot” took a poetic approach on that, and I’d advise you check it out.
But sorry haters, I’m giving “Cruella,” directed by Craig Gillespie (in his first feature since “I, Tonya”), a passing grade, because it’s just so fun, and my mother and I are fans of the animated movie, and the villainess herself.
In Theaters and Streaming on Disney+