The Emmas! The Fashion! The Music! “Cruella” is a vibrant, fun, cinematic triumph and the best live-action Disney film. Oscar winners Emma Stone and Emma Thompson are delightful to watch in the knock-down-drag-out couture battle of the century in Craig Gillespie’s origin story that takes us back to the early days of one of the greatest villains to emerge from the Mouse House.
A first-rate supporting cast led by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser as Ms. de Vil’s minions Jasper and Horace and a killer soundtrack make this one of the must-see films of the summer. Oh yeah, and there are dalmatians!
The setting is 1970s London, and the British punk scene is brewing. Estella (Emma Stone), an aspiring fashion designer catches the eye of Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), the renowned queen of Haute fashion, after she gets tipsy one night and redecorates the window at Liberty of London, the most fashionable department store in the city. Of course, Estella loses her entry-level job (custodian) at the store, but she’s snapped up by the Baroness who informs Liberty’s manager, “You’re a fool. That girl put together a better window display than I’ve seen here for 10 years.”
The moment the Baroness steps out of her car looking dazzling in an Audrey Hepburn-inspired outfit while The Doors “Five to One” amps up the scene, it’s evident that fashion and music go hand in hand in the Disney reboot that blends Oscar-winning designer Jenny Beavan’s costumes with a diverse soundtrack that features Blondie, The Clash, Nina Simone, Queen, Supertramp, Florence + The Machine, and my personal favorite, the Ike & Tina Turner version of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” which made the cut after Mark Strong — who plays John, the English butler and right-hand of the Baroness — suggested the track to Gillespie. Beavan’s costumes, especially Cruella’s look, are ravishing, dark, and just what you’d expect from the designer behind “Mad Max: Fury Road.” She’s also worked on quite a few Emma Thompson films including “Sense and Sensibility,” “Howards End,” and “The Remains of the Day.”
It’s fun watching Estella transform into Cruella after the Baroness goes from her idol to enemy No. 1. It all dates back to a necklace that used to belong to Estella’s mother who passed away when she was a child. That’s all I’ll say as our anti-hero discovers a few shockers from her past. Stone once again delivers a superb performance as the geeky girl turned supervillain. The film really gets going once Stone and Thompson become rivals leading to an entertaining battle of wits and haute couture.
“Cruella” is a prequel to Disney’s “101 Dalmatians” so at this juncture there are only three of the spotted dogs — make sure you stay for the end credits for an added scene. And while Stone’s de Vil is not yet the vile scoundrel whose fun to hate, she makes significant progress by the time the credits roll. It’s entertaining, flawless fun, and Disney’s best live-action remake.