Directed by Craig Gillespie.
Starring Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, John McCrea, Emily Beecham, and Mark Strong.
Estella (Emma Stone) is a girl with original ideas. When necessity brings her to London, she encounters The Baroness (Emma Thompson). A meeting which awakens something different, dangerous and decidedly cruel.
There is something savagely chic about this re-invention of a Disney classic. Featuring a fully formed firebrand performance from Emma Stone in the title role, Cruella is an assault on the senses and sensibilities. Melding a visual punk rock aesthetic in amongst origin story staples, director Craig Gillespie carousels this unruly story into something genuinely new. Merging rites of passage elements with other avante garde components, Cruella feels like a hybrid high end feature film destined to leave a scar.
This feels like an old Ealing comedy laced with broad character moments and exaggerated set pieces, which acknowledge, embrace then ignore all that came before. Cruella is an orphan story, a rites of passage fable and something else besides. Flamboyant, ostentatious and staggeringly prescient in its use of visual motifs, this is a film which keeps on giving.
Production designer Fiona Crombie recreates a swinging London town that exudes swagger. Gothic overtones and period features dominate certain portions of this film, yet sit perfectly alongside the intentionally cool urban vibe elsewhere. Clothes, hair and make-up combine through Jenny Beavan and Nadia Stacey to add another essential element to an already heady mix. Vivienne Westwood and a searing soundtrack, coalesce into a sensory creation littered with cinematic Easter eggs.
Cultural upheaval is front and centre as old guard mentalities clash with an underground movement focused on ripping up the rule book. This is no more about Dalmatians than The Life of Brian was about Jesus Christ. Marketing Cruella as anything other than an orphan story with comedic moments and murderous overtones would be misleading. Emma Stone skates a thin line between caricature and evil genius as she channels Dennis Price from Kind Hearts and Coronets, by way of Siouxsie Sioux circa 1976.
With a vocal tone and dress sense which feels insidious, Cruella is guaranteed to insight strong opinions and scorch the cinematic landscape. With an anti-establishment stance which references both The Devil Wears Prada and V for Vendetta, this left field Disney departure houses a character creation to stand alongside Heath Ledger’s parting gift. A statement which intentionally leaves little room for interpretation.
To combat this unfettered forest fire of a performance, Cruella also brings with it another female role that competes yet subtly compliments. Emma Thompson creates a self-obsessed old guard advocate in The Baroness, who combines shades of Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly channelling Anna Wintour. Powerful, corrupt and sporting an entitled sense of superiority The Baroness is an old school villain. As a performance her indifference comes through in raised eyebrows, cold shoulders and overt flashes of avarice. Even as influence, public attention and adulation lessen she refuses to admit defeat.
As an allegorical examination of power and its uses Cruella is interesting. Men are essentially emasculated and there to serve, while gender empowerment and individual identity flourish. Screenwriter Tony McNamara, who penned The Favourite, works alongside fellow scribe Dana Fox to deliver a deviously inventive script which feels fresh. For those who thought they were getting Joker mark two think again; nothing could be further from the truth.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★