3.5 out of 5 Stars
Director: Craig Gillespie
Writer: Dana Fox, Tony McNamara, Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel, Steve Zissis, Dodie Smith
Starring: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser
Genre: Comedy, Crime
Rated: PG-13 for some violence and thematic elements
SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) – Synopsis: Estella always dreamed of becoming a fashion designer but the death of her mother forces her to set aside her aspirations for a life of petty crime.
Review: “Cruella” is a bit of Disney revisionist history that attempts to make a misunderstood genius out of the villain from “101 Dalmatians.” You know, the woman who purportedly makes coats out of Dalmatian fur.
I wasn’t a fan of Disney’s “Maleficent” or its sequel but that’s mostly because the character has always been a favorite and I liked her the way she was. Evil is more frightening when it isn’t explained.
I was indifferent to Cruella as she was presented in “101 Dalmatians.” The idea of reinventing her as a sort of Vivienne Westwood tribute made her more interesting to me. I love Westwood, the way she helped establish the fashion aspect of London’s post-glam, punk rock, new romantic club culture in the late seventies and on into the eighties. Casting Emma Stone only added to my excitement.
Stone doesn’t disappoint. Neither does Emma Thompson who stars as The Baroness, a fading haute couture designer known for her lavish parties and her vicious cruelty. Both find plenty of scenery to chew and scenes to steal. It’s the sort of tête-à-tête that is often promised but rarely delivered.
The supporting cast is also strong with Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser taking on the roles of Jasper and Horace, Emily Beecham as Cruella’s mother and Kirby Howell-Baptiste as entertainment journalist Anita Darling. John McCrea’s Artie is appropriately amusing and well dressed.
And yet, for as good as the performances are, it is Jenny Beavan’s costume design that is the most devastating (in a good way) aspect of the film. Is it too early to be talking Oscar picks?
Where “Cruella” stumbles a bit in its pacing. It should move more quickly. Just because Cruella and The Baroness draw out their sentences in the most dramatic and unnatural of ways doesn’t mean the film itself has to follow suit. It's essentially a heist comedy and should rumble and shake like a train about to go off the rails. Give the film a bit of edge. It doesn’t have to be vulgar, just a little livelier.
The film’s biggest misstep is its soundtrack. It's terrible. Not in the sense that the songs themselves are bad, they're just completely wrong for the film's aesthetic. I realize that many who aren't familiar with the music of that era won't notice that the majority of the songs are from the 1960s or from bands that were the antithesis of the punk scene. You could argue that The Baroness is stuck in the previous decade and still finds that the Rolling Stones to be the pinnacle of rebelling. Cruella wouldn't. She'd find the use of Rose Royce's "Car Wash" in a film that manages to not include The Sex Pistols, The Damned, T. Rex, Roxy Music, Bauhaus, Joy Division, Visage, Adam and the Ants, Siouxsie and the Banshees and a number of other bands to be utterly offensive. Because it is. Would "Stranger Things" work if the soundtrack avoided the 1980s and used The Beatles, The Yardbirds and Tom Jones instead?
Searching for a silver lining... We do get one David Bowie track playing in the background of a scene, a cover of The Stooges “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and Blondie’s “One Way or Another.” The sound of London in and around 1977 was far more interesting than this. Don’t weigh Cruella down with some Electric Light Orchestra or Supertramp. Punk was alive, immediate, and direct. It spit in the face of album-oriented rock. Cruella would have too.