Dog’s Movie House: “Cruella” Uneven But Elevated By Its Two Leading Ladies!

So the story goes a little something like this: Cruella is really named Estelle and, in a long prologue in which she is actually born with two-tone hair, sees her mother killed killed at an estate by a trio of aggressive dalmatians. She just wants to be a fashion designer but as an orphan falls in with a couple of young thieves named Jasper and Horace (yep, the two lunkheads from the animated film have now become her surrogate family.) As a grown up (now played by Stone) she manages to get a job working at a fashion house for her idol, the Baroness (Emma Thompson, gleefully sadistic). Estelle’s designs are stolen by the Baroness as her own and as Estelle finds out more about her, she realizes that the Baroness was actually responsible for her mother’s death. Thus an intricate plan for revenge is formed in which Estelle takes the name and wild persona of Cruella (no De Vil yet, that comes later) and tries to destroy the Baroness from both without and within.

Wow! That’s a lot to unpack, but director Craig Gillespie (“I, Tonya”) makes it all go down fairly easily. The film, set during the late 60’s/early 70’s is filled with bouncy hit songs from the time and the film looks absolutely stunning. The story is somewhat odd given where Cruella eventually ends up, but during this time the idea of a coat made out of dalmatians is only something of a joke here. The film clocks in at over two hours and kind of drags in the middle a bit, but picks up during the last third or so.

What shine here are the performances. Stone is a hoot as the nearly dual personality Cruella/Estelle. Like the Joker, she only seems to find her true self behind the outrageous clothes and make up. Stone is matched barb for barb by Thompson, who seems to relish playing a truly reprehensible character. There is no deep mystery to the Baroness: she’s straight up evil. The scenes with those two are the best in the movie and I wish there were more of them. Meanwhile Paul Walter Houser and Joel Fry are very good as Horace and Jasper, respectively, with Fry doing a great job of giving some emotional weight to the more intelligent and emotionally sensitive Jasper. Mark Strong is also his usual dependable self as the Baroness’ valet, a man who is somewhat conflicted by his employer’s total lack of morals and ethics.

So “Cruella” while not really having a reason to exist and following in the footsteps of “Wicked” and “Maleficent” is still a fairly good time at the movies. See it for the costume design, the London scenery and the performances of the two female leads. Just don’t expect to add it to your list of Disney classics. 3 Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barkometer! So Sayeth The Kendog!

“Cruella” is playing in theaters and on Disney+ for the $30 Premium Plan.

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