Main Cast: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson

Director: Craig Gillespie

As the number of cases of viral pandemonium or whatever the thing is we’ve all been hiding from for a year has continued to plummet, California is reopening and I’ll be able to move some of my VickiTube streaming services productions out of the home studios here at Condo Maine and out on location.  I’ve told Captain Drew to fire up the yacht for a new limited series on maritime home rehabbing and redecoration that should truly appeal to middle America.  We’ll be focusing on how to choose the right seawater resistant paints and finishes for your inside cabins, plumbing your deck hot tub, and making sure that your chef creates sumptuous meals in a color palette that accents both your interior decoration and your wardrobe – common problems for your average American household. 

Mrs. Norman Maine's yacht
I really should bedazzle this a little so it stands out from all the other neighborhood yachts.

Leah, my consumer products genius, suggested I get Chip and Joanna on board as on camera talent and design coordinators so I immediately had Joseph, my manager, call New York to begin booking Chip Zien and Joanna Gleason and started a little contest among some of my composer friends to create a little jingle ‘Into the Boats’ as a title song to make sure they’d be truly interested in coming aboard, so to speak.

We’re also going into quick production with a new restaurant review show, Diners, Drive Ins and Divas featuring yours truly and some of my special friends as we explore some of the more interesting out-of-the way culinary sensations.  I have hired a new intern, Phoebe, to assist with finding some interesting little boites de nuit where we can bring in a small incognito camera crew – nothing more than eight or ten with a couple of drones for compelling overhead shots.  I will do the inaugural episode at some Scottish place.  McDougalls, McDouglas… something of the type and then Norma Desmond has the follow up episode at something called Chick Filo which I assume features some sort of poultry baklava.  I truly am looking forward to sharing my striking knowledge of haut cuisine with all my wonderful viewers.  VickiTube continues to gain in subscribers and is now into triple digits.

I didn’t spill a drop.

Of course, the most important thing about the change in public health is that I was able to actually leave my exquisite home, descend the elevator, and attend a film at the local multiplex.  A dear friend and his wife (I shall not name them but acting royalty) had rented out one of the screens for this birthday so a carefully curated group of fully vaccinated individuals could enjoy the new Disney villainess origin story, Cruella. I could tell that we were all fully vaccinated as the number of hugs exchanged definitely showed the magnetic attraction from the vaccine.  We rejoiced at being together as a group, paid amounts equivalent to a small house payment for our traditional movie snacks, and hurried into the auditorium to enjoy the film.  I will admit I added just a whiff of Grey Goose to my Peach Fanta from a lovely little ladylike flask I carried in my new Kate Spade.  One must be in the proper frame of mind for a film after all.

Cruella is the story of how Cruella de Vil, the villainess of Disney’s 101 Dalmatians came to be.  Disney has filmed that story several times, first as an animated feature in the early 1960s, later remaking it as a live action feature in the mid 90s with Glenn Close as the diva with the black and white hair.  Dodie Smith’s original novel describes Cruella as a sleek, elegant, patrician goddess, but when Disney took the property to the film medium, they used the tall and lanky Mary Wickes as the body model and the motions and mannerisms of Tallulah Bankhead, making her more of a harridan and less of a seductress. 

Emma Stone as Cruella, image courtesy of Disney
Emma Stone is perfectly punk with Cruella’s signature hair.

In this telling, we first meet Cruella as the child Estella, convinced of her own genius, and her strong wish to become a fashion designer.  With her distinctive half black, half white hair, school does not go so well for her and she and her saintly mother (Emily Beecham) decide to head for London so that Estella can begin to follow her dreams.  A quick detour, however, turns tragic, and Estella finds herself in London alone where she is adopted by a couple of street kids, Jasper and Horace. Fast forward a decade and Estella (Emma Stone), Jasper (Joel Fry), and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) have become a dysfunctional family that grifts, robs, and coexists together in a tumbledown attic studio. 

Estella still wants to get into the world of fashion and lands a menial job at the famous Liberty department store where she longs to bring new vitality to their stodgy sense of fashion.  Thwarted, she takes matters into her own hands and catches the eye of The Baroness (Emma Thompson), the reigning queen of couture who promptly steals Estella away to her atelier.  Estella, after being wronged by The Baroness, vows to break her and steal her limelight and reputation and invents an alter-ego, Cruella who takes the London fashion world by storm with her Punk aesthetic. There are various double crosses, revelations, and life altering circumstances and, at the end of the film, Estella has been shed in favor of the cold, cruel, calculating Cruella with all the pieces arranged for the original 101 Dalmatians story to take place.  (And I can see yet another remake with this cast coming…)

The film has a number of things to recommend it.  The shifting of the time period from 50s/early 60s to mid 70s which allows for Cruella and her friends to embody the Punk movement and its attack on the shibboleths of society was a stroke of genius.  It is helped out by an absolutely marvelous soundtrack of 70s pop hits in various styles which give style and panache to the various set pieces, be they parties that descend into mayhem, fashion shows, or montages that fill us in on the adventures of various characters. 

Emma Thompson as The Baroness, image courtesy of Disney
Emma Thompson is magnificent as The Baroness

The visual look is also amazing with kudos to production designer Fiona Crombie who coordinates a number of gorgeous sets that are as much characters as any of the actors.  And if Jenny Beavan does not receive an Oscar nomination for her costumes, I shall be marching on the Academy.  There are also several standout performances.  Emma Thompson, one of the finest film actors of the last three decades, delivers a magnificent performance as The Baroness, from her twitching false eyelashes, to her reptilian sneer, to her delivery of withering remarks.  Emma Stone, in the title role, is nearly, but not quite, her match.  I can’t think of any actress of her generation that would be though.  In a small role, John McCrea as a flamboyantly gay fashionista steals every scene he’s in.  (You know it’s not your parents Disney film when there’s an openly gay character treated as a matter of fact.)

Then there’s the problems.  Cruella is 135 minutes long which is at least half an hour too much.  Sequences go on too long, the second act drags interminably, and there’s so much plot and incident stuffed into it that it’s a bit like an overstuffed sausage.  The script apparently went through development hell with the first draft having been completed in 2011. They apparently decided to keep everything that went in with all the subsequent rewrites.  The story lurches between heartwarming Disney, 60s caper comedy, some sort of odd remake of The Devil Wears Prada and back again.

The second is a big why.  Why does Cruella exist?  Why do we need to know about the young Cruella and whence she came? It’s very confusing as to whom the film is made.  It’s rated PG-13 with good reason.  It’s far too sophisticated for young children who would be bored witless by the slower sections and all of the references and humor passing over their heads.  Older children might like it but will be mystified by all of the referential humor and visuals.  The 1960s and 70s might as well be the 1860s and 70s to them.  Adolescents, other than boys interested in the Auntie Mame Barbie set complete with Beekman Place Dreamhouse, will find it too corny and broad.  That leaves adults wallowing in a bit of nostalgia for the original films seen in childhood.  And they are likely to be checking their watches at the lugubrious pacing and myriad false endings.

Go for the good things.  Be prepared for the bad ones.  If you do, you’ll likely have a good time.

Multiple dalmatians. Heirloom necklace. Gratuitous Terminator reference. Sewn chrysalises. Narrow escape from the flames. Mattress leaping. Toilet scrubbing. Rat chihuahua. Hotel robbery. Black and White ball.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction

Fanta image by Renato Trentin at Unsplash

Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo Courtesy of Disney. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved. Emma Thompson as the Baroness. Photo by Laurie Sparham. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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