Cruella ★★★

There's a manic energy to the proceedings in Cruella, featuring a couple of rock-solid performances from both Emmas (Stone & Thompson). Writers Dana Fox and Tony McNamara attempt to humanize a future dog murderer(?) by adding a tragic family backstory; it allows the character of Estella to evolve with sufficient breathing space. Obvious comparisons to The Devil Wears Prada (and Joker) aside, the film makes stupendous use of its resources - be it in its ravishing costumes & make-up, killer production design, a fantastic soundtrack, or the depiction of Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) as believably funny sidekicks. A special shoutout goes to Wink, the adorable chihuahua, whose presence really lights (and lightens) up the film.

Cruella, in 2021, makes you forget that she's the vicious antagonist from a 1956 novel and a 1996 movie. Director Craig Gillespie plants her in a particularly intriguing universe where the character's ultimate goal is to avenge her mother and become London's next fashion icon. What turns her into the supervillain from 101 Dalmatians is only hinted at and never explicitly put across. Plotwise, this may not sync well with the original's continuity, but the good thing is, Cruella works fine as a standalone. Emma Stone's slow-yet-nasty turn as Cruella is certainly something to behold while Emma Thompson's narcissistic showcase as The Baroness is the perfect foil. It's girl-boss-power all the way!

The heists, however outlandish they seem, are presented with remarkable visual flair. The CGI dogs are a bit of a bother, but director Gillespie ensures those obvious graphical hiccups aren't over-exposed. What if this film was just about a woman wanting to exact revenge, set in the world of fashion, and not necessarily Cruella's? That thought struck me more than once during and after the film. In that sense, this origin story thematically has more in common with Wicked than Joker in its reimagining of a notorious antagonist. The big difference here is that the character of Joker has had multiple appearances and interpretations, both in comic books and films. The source material for Cruella is a children's novel and a half-decent movie, both portraying the character as a straightforward baddie obsessed with fur coats.

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