Sympathy for the "Cruella" de Vil in Disney's latest origin story
Starring Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste and Mark Strong. Written by Dana Fox, Tony McNamara, Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel and Steve Zissis. Directed by Craig Gillespie. Streaming on Disney+. 134 minutes. PG
The Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" sounds deep into "Cruella," a tempestuous origin story about Disney's most hiss-worthy villain: Cruella de Vil, the puppy-stealing monster of "101 Dalmations."
This latest twist in the tail(s) stars Emma Stone in the title role and Emma Thompson as her fashion world nemesis Baroness Von Hellman, who brandishes a Sweeney Todd razor and an even more lethal tongue.
"Sympathy" seems an inevitable song choice, yet rarely has the tune been used more appropriately for a movie, which is set in 1970s London and loaded with classic pop from the '60s and '70s. Disney wants us to feel for its bedeviled protagonist, who was tragically orphaned young Estella before she morphed into homicidal fashionista Cruella.
Five writers labour to concoct a narrative connecting Estella to Cruella, with nods to "The Devil Wears Prada," "Phantom Thread" and "The Favourite" along the way, while also not straying too far from "101 Dalmations" lore.
It makes for jarring yet engaging viewing; I liked this better than I thought I would.
But it's hard to render the expected sympathy, especially after Cruella callously forces her two close friends and protectors, Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), to become her obedient stooges.
The battle royale between the ambitious Cruella and the rapacious Baroness — director Craig Gillespie proved his femme feud chops with "I, Tonya" — gives the movie enough energy to bounce over the patchy plot.
A pair of scene-stealing pooches helps, too. "Cruella" also boasts smashing production design, costumes, makeup and hair, which will turn heads come awards season.
The look is to die for — but you don't want to give Cruella or the Baroness any more ideas about making that statement come true. 🌓