The newest from Disney is a live-action origin story of Cruella de Vil, the infamous villain from the “101 Dalmatians” franchise. In a brilliant twist, the villain isn’t our young star, played by Oscar-winner Emma Stone. Instead, the film creates a character not unlike the Miranda Priestly role played so venomously by Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada.” The Baroness, who rules her fashion house with an iron fist and withering scorn, is brought to chilly life by another Oscar-titled actor, Emma Thompson. Directed by Craig Gillespie, the film also features Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser and Emily Beecham. Jenny Beavan designed the incredible costumes.
You might remember Beavan as the short, spunky woman who wore a bejeweled leather jacket as she collected the Oscar for costume design in 2016. As costume designer for “Cruella,” she created the looks for not only Stone, but also Thompson, who plays Cruella’s fashion industry boss-turned-rival. It was Beaven, 40 years ago, who designed the “Sense and Sensibility” costumes, which also starred Thompson. Beavan had to dream up more than 30 punk looks for London in the 1970s.
A mash up of Orphan Annie, Harley Quinn, and “The Devil Wears Prada,” this origin story of “Cruella” is not a movie for children, but fashionistas should flock. I watched many guys in the movie theater I was in leaving for snacks and clearly not engaged. There were some serious fans in the audience. As we left the theater excitedly discussing the film, more than one group came up to take pictures in front of the poster outside.
Emily Zemler of the Los Angeles Times spoke to Stone, Gillespie, Beavan and production designer Fiona Crombie.
“This ‘Cruella’ combines ’70s London punk and Alexander McQueen in bold fashion,” she wrote.
As Stone said of the unlikely collision of punk-era London and a Disney origin story, “It was a time where there was a big shift into counterculture and the Sex Pistols, anti-establishment mentality. Obviously, this is a Disney movie about a villain. This isn’t really as punk as it gets. But that era and that feel of going against the grain in a major way, especially in London, is exciting for a character like Cruella, who is born to be bad. And definitely doesn’t want to blend in, deep down. Even though Estella is a bit more conventional because of her nurture, I think the true nature of Cruella is letting your freak flag fly.”
There are many references to the original cartoon. The young hoods that orphan Estella finds shelter with both physically resemble Cruella’s henchmen and they’re named Horace and Jasper. There’s a childhood friend named Anita who grows up to play a larger role in Estella’s career launch, who will later be gifted a Dalmatian pup named Pongo. We even hear a bit of the Cruella theme song played on the piano.
The punk scene of 1970s London is a fabulous setting, and the focus on fashion design gives the film a great milieu. The acting is top-notch with great character development. At two-plus hours, there’s time to delve into scenarios that might warrant a young woman, bullied, orphaned and a street urchin to grow up cruel and take on an alternate personality to seek revenge. Every fashion showdown between the two Emma’s is a delight. And if there are far fewer dogs than the cartoon, well, I didn’t mind one iota.
Drinks With Films rating: 3 1/2 coupe glasses of Champagne, sipped while posed in high fashion, out of 5.