Disney's Dalmations spin-off Cruella 'cut to the template of a comic book origin story'

Damon Smith

Cruella: Emma Stone as Cruella


CRUELLA (12A, 134 mins) Comedy/Drama/Romance. Emma Stone, Dame Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Jon McCrea, Emily Beecham. Director: Craig Gillespie.

Released in cinemas from May 28 and online exclusively via Disney+ with Premier Access

IN LYRICS composed by Mel Leven for the 1961 Disney animation One Hundred And One Dalmatians, Cruella de Vil is described as an inhuman beast and "a spider waiting for the kill".

Director Craig Gillespie's couture-crazy caper gives birth to a younger and warmer incarnation of the fur-obsessed villainess from Dodie Smith's 1956 children's novel, rooting the character's misery in an ill-fated encounter with three spotty dogs at a lavish soiree.

The punk rock revolution of 1970s London is a vivid backdrop to the skulduggery and a deep well of inspiration for production designer Fiona Crombie and costume designer Jenny Beavan, who unleash a whirligig of bold colours and patterns.

Cruella is a heaving banquet for the eyes, laden with show-stopping looks for lead actresses Emma Stone and Dame Emma Thompson as competing talents in the cut-throat world of fashion.

Co-writers Dana Fox and Tony McNamara serve up a slightly less bountiful feast, which honours Dodie Smith's source material and warmly embraces representation, including an unapologetically self-expressive character played by John McCrea, Olivier Award-nominated star of stage musical Everybody's Talking About Jamie.

Voiceover narration from the eponymous troublemaker strikes an irreverent tone which leeches into every frame and harks back to the script's most memorable line: "Normal is the cruellest insult of them all."

Haunted by the death of her mother (Emily Beecham), resourceful orphan Estella (Stone) thrives on the streets of London by befriending thieves Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), whose rooftop hideout boasts spectacular views of the capital.

The larcenous trio pulls off small-scale heists in disguises designed and sewn by Estella.

The punk rock revolution of 1970s London is a vivid backdrop to the skulduggery in Cruella

Her sartorial gift catches the eye of Baroness von Hellman (Thompson), ferociously haute creative director of a revered fashion label. She hires Estella as an assistant and shamelessly steals the ingenue's ideas for a spring collection.

Tension between the women kindles full-blown conflict and Estella unmuzzles her vengeful alter ego, Cruella, assisted by society columnist Anita Darling (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and vintage fashion devotee Artie (McCrea).

"She has made it me or her," snarls the baroness, "and I choose me!"

Cruella is cut to the template of a comic book origin story with tragedy as a catalyst for rebirth, dual identities and a descent into madness and rabble-rousing rebellion that draws comparisons with Joaquin Phoenix's Joker.

Stone does not fully embrace the darkness within the constraints of a 12A certificate family film, but she has fun nudging her anarchist towards the edge while Thompson gleefully tramples everyone who gets in her adulation-hungry doyenne's path.

Verbal warfare between the two women, laced with wit and bile, recalls scriptwriter McNamara's Oscar-nominated work on The Favourite.

Director Gillespie could trim his design closer to two hours, but then his minxy title character does not exercise restraint – so he follows her lead.

Rating: ***

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