CRUELLA (Craig Gillespie). 134 minutes. Available Friday, May 28, on DisneyPlus+ with Premier Access. Rating: NNNN
There’s a bit you probably caught in the trailer for Cruella, Disney’s latest live-action reimagining of a classic animated villain. Emma Stone, playing the fabulously twisted 101 Dalmatians antagonist, is dressed in a satin cape befitting Snow White. She lights a match, drops it on the white cape, and the whole thing burns up in a CGI display that leaves plenty of room for improvement.
The flame out reveals Stone’s Cruella in a form-fitting and forbidding red dress, a two-toned wig that could’ve been snatched from the head of Helena Bonham Carter, and a glint you can catch behind a raven-like mask that suggests she’s perfectly in her element somewhere between bad and evil.
The whole thing is so on the nose. Cruella ain’t your mom’s Disney princess, the scene screams. But it works! Cruella can proudly stick a superior nose in the air at all other Disney live-action remakes, reimaginings and spinoffs that have been too timid to stray too far from their source material, except for when it’s politically correct.
The movie – concocted with a heavy but welcome reliance on period-appropriate needle drops by I, Tonya director Craig Gillespie and Moonlight composer Nicholas Britell – is about Stone’s Cruella making a splash in the fashion world of the 60s and 70s and engaging in a cutthroat competition against a tyrannical womenswear magnate played by Emma Thompson. While the whole thing is full of Disneyisms and concessions to a younger audience, it still feels less indebted to the original property and more to British steampunk, The Devil Wears Prada and maybe even a touch of Martin Scorsese’s Gangs Of New York. The delicious Emma-versus-Emma competition in Cruella, with both actors making the most of superficial material, lands somewhere between Hathaway and Streep and DiCaprio and Day-Lewis.
What’s surprising is how well this material works for the whole family. That has a lot to do with an animated performance from Stone, who is heartfelt as Cruella without sacrificing the pleasures of a little malevolence, and she somehow got my kids invested in fashion industry gamesmanship. This is a Disney franchise movie about spring and fall collections, with an anti-hero weaponizing haute couture designs, which are so stunning and elaborate they are their own set pieces.
I know it’s premature to say, but it seems Mad Max: Fury Road costume designer Jenny Beavan has the Oscar all sewn up for her work in Cruella. My 10-year-old told me so.
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