Opening nationwide in theaters and streaming, Cruella is an all-new, live-action origin story, recounting the early days of the screen’s most notorious – and infamously fashionable – dog-napping villainess, the legendary Cruella de Vil from Disney’s 1961 animated classic 101 Dalmatians.
Set in 1970s London, amid the punk rock revolution, this fantasy-adventure follows Estella (Emma Stone), a rebellious youngster who is suddenly orphaned. Befriended by two young thieves – Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) – she soon becomes a clever grifter.
Since Estella’s always wanted to be a fashion designer, her buddies slyly help her land an entry-level job at the upscale Liberty emporium where her antics cause constant chaos. That’s where she catches the eye of the Baroness (Emma Thompson), the Anna Wintour-inspired, viciously imperious diva of haute couture.
“Let me give you some advice,” the Baroness says. “You can’t care about anyone. Everyone else is an obstacle. You care about what an obstacle wants or needs – you’re dead. If I cared about anyone or thing, I might’ve died. You have the talent. Whether you have the killer instinct is the big question.”
Cleverly befriending tabloid journalist Anita Darling (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), along with androgynous Artie (John McCrea), and earning the subversive allegiance of the Baroness’s valet (Mark Strong), sassy Estella gradually evolves into chic, witchy Cruella, proclaiming: “I was born brilliant, born bad, and a little bit mad.”
Kudos to costume designer Jenny Bevan for evoking nostalgic memories of British designers Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood, who brought modern punk and new wave fashion into the mainstream. Westwood viewed punk as a way of “seeing if one could put a spoke in the system.”
Written by Dana Fox, Tony McNamara, Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel and Steve Zissis, it’s directed by Craig Gillespie (I Tonya). Wonderfully wicked, it’s commendable for LGBTQ+ representation – and stick around for a surprise during the credits.
On the Granger Gauge, Cruella is a deviously evil 8, also streaming on Disney+ with Premier Access.