As far as I can tell, the moviegoing public has not been exactly clamoring for an origin story about the villainess in a Disney animated film of 60 years past (One Hundred and One Dalmatians). If you recall, Cruella DeVil’s icky claim to infamy was wanting to make a fur coat out of Dalmatian puppy pelts. Note: Glenn Close nicely portrayed the two-toned wacko and was the only saving grace in 1998’s dismal 101 Dalmatians, one of the first in the creativity-bereft studio’s misbegotten and mostly awful string of live-action remakes of its animated classics.
Alas, Disney does what it wants, so I dutifully went along to see it, expecting another lame, intensely focus-grouped cash grab. Well, here’s the surprise: I loved it! A totally committed Emma Stone, with her big eyes and expressive face, her comic timing and dramatic chops, is spot-on in the title role, and costume designer Jenny Beavan (Mad Max: Fury Road) is a shoo-in for another Oscar nom. The director is Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl; I, Tonya)
But how do you (re)cast such a puppy-preying pervert in a more positive light? One, you gloss all that puppy stuff over as mere misguidance, and two, you create an even more vile villainess. Enter the film’s other Emma — Thompson — as a big-deal fashion designer so twisted and egotistical that she makes Meryl’s magazine mogul in The Devil Wears Prada look like a pussycat. Thompson matches Stone step for step, tit for tat as the two compete in a gonzo, crime-and-couture sendup of the world of high fashion. It’s a hoot! Also loved the only slightly obvious pop/rock/oldies/classical/jazz soundtrack.
Okay, there are some bugs. At north of two hours, it’s a tad overlong. And it doesn’t really have a reason to exist. Still, it works as a stand-alone story that’s devilishly offbeat and confounds expectations. So what’s the bottom line? I had a way better time at the movies than I had intended. I love it when that happens. (134 min)