Emma Stone as Cruella de Vil.
Well, I guess we now know what it would look like if Disney decided to do their version of “The Devil Wears Prada.”
“Cruella” is the latest attempt by Disney to fill potholes and explain the origins of some of their most iconic villains. It has the enviable task of telling a compelling story even though the viewers know how things will turn out. While it doesn’t completely succeed, watching Emma Stone and Emma Thompson engage in a massive evil witch-off makes this movie worth sitting through.
Following the title character (Stone) as she leaves a life of crime to rise through the ranks of the prestigious fashion company run by The Baroness (Thompson). Things get complicated when Cruella discovers The Baroness is in possession of a cherished family heirloom her mother promised her.
With the help of her friends Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), Cruella schemes to steal back her heirloom. In the process, she hopes to destroy The Baroness’ life and career and establish herself at the top of the London fashion hierarchy.
“Cruella” has some cool visual flavor. Every time Cruella shows up to introduce a new look, we get a clever visual treat and that helps to keep you engaged as you wait for the next cool reveal. You also get some cool visuals like a party full of rich people with identical black-and-white hairdos. The gowns Cruella and The Barness work up are fun to look at. This isn’t the most visually striking film but it does have some eye-catching moments.
But easily the best part of “Cruella” is the interplay between Stone and Thompson. Watching The Baroness smolder with entitled, barely controlled anger every time things don’t go her way is a real treat. Stone is essentially playing two characters here, The Baroness’ put-upon assistant and the devilish, scheming Cruella, and she kills it in both roles. Watching Cruella give a knowing smile as witness The Baroness fall to pieces is a lot of fun.
Stone and Thompson are good enough that it nearly cancels out all the flaws “Cruella” has. They make the conventional, cliche-filled story bearable. They elevate the tired dialogue and make all the actors around them raise their game.
There’s just one thing they can’t make up for: the nagging feeling that Disney is trying to fix a character that doesn’t need to be fixed. Cruella de Vil is one of the best Disney villains ever in part because she’s so simple. She wants to make coats out of puppies, a motivation that’s obviously evil and easy to understand. We don’t need to know why she’s so obsessed and deranged, just that she IS obsessed and deranged.
By affixing a tragic backstory, Disney is not only trying to get us to relate to a character that’s more effective the less we know about her, but they’re also making Cruella less scary. I mean, how can you be terrified that she’s gonna turn puppies into clothing when you know how cruel life was to her as she was growing up?
“Cruella” has some great visual moments and lots of good acting but it barely avoids sinking in a storm of uncreative writing. It tries so hard to fix a character that’s not broken that it breaks the character anyway. If you have to see “Cruella,” I’d say wait for it to become available through normal access on Disney+ so you don’t spend too much money on a movie that’s intermittently entertaining at best.
2 ½ Indy Fedoras out of 5
MPAA Rating: PG-13
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Stone, Thompson keep ‘Cruella’ afloat
Emma Stone as Cruella de Vil.