Combustible Celluloid
With: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Mark Strong, Kayvan Novak, Jamie Demetriou, John McCrea, Jamie Demetriou
Written by: Dana Fox, Tony McNamara, based on a story by Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel, Steve Zissis, and on a novel by Dodie Smith
Directed by: Craig Gillespie
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence and thematic elements
Running Time: 134
Date: 05/28/2021

Cruella (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Trouble Spots

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Disney continues to plunder its own vault for new movies. Aside from its series of not-as-good-as-the-original live-action remakes, we have this other series that focuses on villains, like kid-friendly versions of Venom or Joker. The two Maleficent movies made decent money and earned Oscar nominations for Costume Design (first one) and Hair and Makeup (second one). Set in the fashion world, the new Cruella looks to be headed for the same nominations. But all this wicked cynicism aside, Cruella actually does find a measure of sweetness and humanity, perhaps largely thanks to the casting of Emma Stone.

As "Estella," she narrates her tale, apparently from beyond the grave. She's born with that two-tone hair, and a sense of mischief. She grows up thinking that she has caused the death of her own mother, due to her disobedience, and, newly orphaned, falls in with full-time thieves Jasper and Horace (played, in adulthood, by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser). As an adult, she grows bored with crime and wishes to pursue her dream of fashion, so the boys swindle her a job in a luxurious department store. She starts cleaning toilets, but all she needs is for someone to discover her hidden talents. That someone is The Baroness (Emma Thompson), who, we learn, is even more despicable than Cruella.

Directed by Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, Fright Night, I, Tonya), Cruella is pretty lengthy at 2 hours and 14 minutes, and the plot goes on to describe a secret from Cruella's past, her transformation from the good "Estella" to the Cruella de Vil we all know and loathe, and many little origin-style tidbits that lead right up to the beginning of 101 Dalmatians. But none of it feels terribly chunky or out of place. And Stone manages to convey the pain and betrayal of her upbringing, as well as true exhilaration as her well-laid plans begin to pay off, making her cartoon character feel oddly, wonderfully human.

One sequence in particular, as she tries to out-fashion the Baroness, has her falling out of a garbage truck into a pile of fabric of various shades of green and brown. She springs up to reveal a stunning trash-inspired dress, and then the truck drives away, revealing that all the other garbage in the pile is really a long, glamorous chain, attached to the dress. It's pretty gorgeous, even for me, who knows nil about fashion. Cruella is, indeed, one to root for.

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