Disappointing origin story for one of Disney’s most famous villains, Cruella de Vil. The story finds little Estella Miller (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) wanting to be a fashion designer, but being nicknamed “Cruella” by her single mother (Emily Beecham), because of her mean streak. When her mother is accidentally killed, Estella becomes an orphan who befriends two street urchins Jasper (Ziggy Gardner) and Horace (Joseph MacDonald) to survive. As adults, Estella (Emma Stone), Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) make a living as thieves and pick-pockets. Estella gets a chance to live her design dream when she gets a job at the Liberty department store and catches the eye of fashion mogul The Baroness (Emma Thompson). Trouble arises, though, as Estella finds there is a link between her mother’s death and the woman she now works for. She adopts the alter-ego of fashion rebel Cruella and sets out to embarrass and ruin The Baroness for revenge. The fur soon flies as the two fashionistas go to war.
Uninspired prequel is directed by-the-numbers by Craig Gillespie from a script and story by five people…and it shows. The film resembles a soup where too many cooks are throwing in ingredients and yet the meal never really comes together despite everything in it. In terms of tone, it’s less a family movie than a possible result if Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid and Nancy) had directed a Disney movie in his heyday in the 80s. Only we think he would have done better. Billed as a comedy, it’s rarely funny and it’s quite slow moving, making it’s 134 minute runtime seem even longer. There are a few lively sequences, such as Cruella continuing to show up at The Baroness’ events and one upping the haughty designer, but otherwise it’s actually dull in many spots and the wit is a little too dry for it’s own good. Laughs are few and far between and it’s hard to picture any of the younger Disney crowd having the patience to sit through it. The production is lavish and the look and feel of the 60s and 70s London setting is well done, but the story is basically a slightly more outlandish twist on The Devil Wears Prada and, well, that tale has already been told. Overall, it’s a big disappointment considering the concept and some of the splendid acting talent involved.
The cast are good, despite being given mediocre material to work with. Emma Stone gives it her over-the-top all as Estella/Cruella, making her more of an anti-heroine than an outright villain. She’s fun to watch as she chews up the scenery in some outlandish outfits and one wishes she was in a far better film to really cut loose. Same can be said of veteran actress Emma Thompson who also does wonders with a thinly written and stereotypical part as The Baroness. It’s entertaining to see the Emmas act off of each other and again, one wishes a better script was there in support of these two performers. Fry and Hauser are fine as Cruella’s sidekicks and Mark Strong is solid, as always, as The Baroness’ right hand man, John. Also making an impression is John McCrea as Cruella’s flamboyant friend and accomplice, Artie. A very good cast let down by flaccid direction and a weak script.
Overall this is a sad and mostly dull misfire that was born from a very intriguing premise. Casting Emma Stone as a young Cruella de Vil was a great idea, that is sadly under-baked in it’s execution. It’s a familiar story about the underbelly of the design world that has been done before and surely there was a better way to launch one of Disney animation’s greatest bad girls. It’s not very funny, nor does it have the energy, pacing or cleverness it needed to make it really soar. Both Emmas give it their all, but can only do so much with flat direction and an even flatter script. What they do accomplish is a testament to their talent. Most of the below rating is for the actresses, supporting cast and production design crew who really try hard in this tepid let-down.
Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) Dalmatians!