CRUELLA: The de Vil wears Prada.

“Darling, Harley Quinn wishes she had Disney money.”

Actually, she wears McQueen, Galliano and Westwood.

Though Disney’s new 101 Dalmatians origin story Cruella is set in the London fashion scene of the 1970s, the visual inspiration is drawn from the darlings of edgy Brit fashion of the nineties and noughties. Anachronistic, yes, but fitting. Like Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood, who appropriated the DIY street fashion of London’s post-punk youth and coutured it into looks a wealthy fashionista would wear, Disney has been selectively appropriating darker tones from other genres and studios to make their family fare more appealing to mature film fans. 

Cruella is the latest step in the perfecting of this strategy, and it’s enjoyable if you just sit back and accept how it works. You know what punches are going to be pulled (violent deaths can only be alluded to; no blood, nudity, fucks, etc) so the surprise comes in watching how well many of them land. And as Disney has so many sacred cows in their IP, it’s refreshing to see them do a reboot. 

The last time we saw Cruella de Vil was in the 1996 live-action version of 101 Dalmatians (and in the awful follow-up but even Disney wants to forget that). Both were before Disney got sexy, so we had Glenn Close pulling from her bag of silent-movie crazy-face to keep the classic villainess one-dimensional enough for an eight-year-old to understand and, more importantly, laugh at. 

No one can laugh at Emma Stone’s Cruella. Neither she nor the script allow it. This is not a Cruella ripe for getting Nickelodeon slime dumped on her for the kiddie’s amusement. She is fully in control of the story. In fact, she narrates it. 

With plot-driving triumphs aplenty and set-backs easily overcome, you might think this Cruella has been given too easy a path. But again, this is Disney. And it’s Disney taking cues from The Devil Wears Prada, a movie that’s become a cult classic with the exact audience Cruella is aiming for. It’s an audience that wants to see a young heroine with a relatable talent – in both cases the ability to look great in clothes – challenge an older icon to prove she’s worthy. And by the end give that elder the metaphorical slap in the face she had coming.

No one’s going to argue that Cruella is a brilliant film, or that it doesn’t have tedious aspects (the needle drops are relentless). However, the script is tight and full of details worthy of a good heist movie, gives us two big finales, and gives Emma Stone enough opportunities to strut past the expected beats of a Disney character. 

The Emma given the real hurdle is Ms Thompson. The script puts her Baroness so much in the mold of Miranda Priestly that Thompson has nowhere to swing but for the fences. She’s there to be so awful a person that Cruella’s own narcissism seems tame by comparison, and it leaves a performance that’s fun to watch but a style of cartoonish that doesn’t match the graphic novel tone of Stone and the rest of the production.

Neither Emma, though, can compete with the real star of Cruella – the costumes. This might be a drawback to some, but to me, uh, yes, costumes can be a character. Just ask Daniel Day Lewis and his Oscar nomination. I’ll admit that Cruella’s 70s time period makes no sense, with the Baroness doing nothing but New Look silhouettes from 1950 while wearing Elsa Peretti cuffs from the future, and Cruella donning newsprint dresses and bondage-light while obsessing over a Victorian bauble that looks like it came out of a vending machine, but it is all done so over-the-top you have to respect. And it crescendos with a dress designed so diabolically that it eats other dresses! Who isn’t going to see this movie just for that, and invite Hussein Chalayan? 

Look, I love a challenging film, but I’m finally getting to go back into my beloved theater after 14 months. Do I want to celebrate that by watching a family struggling to grow squash, or Emma Stone mugging all over London in fabulous outfits? Factor in that I am gay…

Cruella will be on Disney+ soon, if you still can’t get yourself into a theater. 

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