By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
On Disney Plus
(additional fees may apply)
Very few origin stories are going to live up to the stylish path that Disney’s Cruella is known for. When trying to deliver the goods, namely in creating an arc we can care for, this film nicely dodges some uneasy truths from past takes. In the animated version, she wore the soft furs of slain Dalmatians. In this live-action film’s case, she won’t touch an ounce of their fur, and it was an accusation made by her rival. The tables are turned as the story is more about who is the the alpha female. The black and white is more suggestive of which of the two personalities define this titular character.
Props go to director Craig Gillespie for having a solid vision in reveling in the punk rock subculture of London. The early 70s focus was a time of uncertainty and change, even though I sensed more of a 60s vibe. This backdrop does a little jump in time since it goes from showing how a very young Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) loses her mom to that of a young woman (played by Emma Stone).
The two miscreants–Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser)–she befriends as a kid also become mates as they survive the streets. Although they help her get a decent job, bits of her past reveal itself since her employer, Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson) kept a memento which belonged to her mother. This twisted tale of revenge is better than Maleficent since we’re dealing with a different Bohemian Rhapsody (the song, not the movie). I even enjoyed this movie more than Joker and Venom combined!
Instead, we have an ironic tale of how a certain apple (Estella) doesn’t fall far from the tree. Stone is perfect in playing through the evolution of becoming an obsessive despot. She has a talent for creating haute fashion, and this defining trait is new when compared to past takes. This character is a devil in disguise when compared to this film’s primary antagonist, wickedly played by Emma Thompson. They test each other to test who is the better devil to know. Both are truly despicable, and not even Gru had this much trouble.
The soundtrack defines this film as much as the two main characters. The song selection reveals their personas. From Blondie’s “One Way or Another” to the Rolling Stone’s “Sympathy for the Devil,” the list is an article in itself! ScreenRant has a perfect guide for anyone wanting to put it together as I’m guessing Disney didn’t want to pay all the royalty fees involved for a proper release. There’s over 30 songs, and the fact “The Wild One,” by Suzi Quatro, was used is an ace in my books. Yes, I’m a fan of this underrated rocker who gained wider recognition in Happy Days. Although the emphasis in 70s hits overshadows the late 60s vibe, I firmly believe these two eras are more analogous than some may realize.
This movie works reasonably well as a prequel to the 1996 film with Glenn Close in the role. Most of the motivations are nicely defined for why the fashion industry is dog eat dog, but as for whether this version of Cruella will wear exotic furs depends on more films. This movie suggests she did the deed to get under The Baroness’ skin, and I’m suspecting she’ll be the one responsible for establishing Cruella’s legacy.
As long as we don’t get talking animals ala Lion King or Lady and the Tramp), I’ll be okay with what’s next. When considering the success Disney has had by shifting the focus of their most famous villains into anti-heroic roles, I’m not surprised if they’re retiring Maleficent. I’m 100% game to see how Cruella continues to claw her way to the top of the fashion empire.
5 Stars out of 5