Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir Craig Gillespie
scr Dana Fox, Tony McNamara
prd Andrew Gunn, Kristin Burr, Marc Platt
with Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Mark Strong, John McCrea, Kayvan Novak, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Jamie Demetriou, Andrew Leung, Leo Bill
release US/UK 28.May.21
21/UK Disney 2h14

thompson strong beecham
See also:
102 Dalmatians (2000)

Is it streaming?

hauser, stone and fry
A pre-dalmatian comical thriller, this wildly stylised prequel traces the iconic character from precocious child into iconic villain. Director Craig Gillespie infuses the story with a Roald Dahl sensibility, adding wonderfully nasty touches as well as terrific character elements that bring the story to life. So while the film is overlong, it helps that the cast is packed out with ace scene-stealers, from the lead roles to colourful cameos.
Since childhood, Estella (Stone) has struggled to control her inner Cruella. Orphaned at 12, she joins Jasper and Horace (Fry and Hauser) committing petty crimes on the streets of London. But designing disguises isn't enough for her, and neither is a lowly job at Liberty. Then an act of rebellion impresses the Baroness (Thompson), a haughty designer who takes Estella under her wing. When Estella makes a dark connection between the Baroness and her past, she decides it's time to bring Cruella out into the open. And her fashion stunts take the city by storm.
Skilful camerawork swirls around gorgeous locations and lavish sets, as scenes are accompanied by an energetically eclectic song score. And the costumes are fabulously dramatic. The script is ingeniously structured as a series of entertaining heists that punctuate Estella's life as she develops from a sassy teen into an evil mastermind, for a darkly emotional reason. It also allows each character to reveal his or her vulnerabilities along the way, which adds a layer of resonance to even the most gleefully over-the-top sequences.

Stone is terrific as Estella, a young woman who knows her gifts ("Wreaking havoc at balls is my personal specialty") and refuses to be overlooked by dopey men or privileged women. Her transformation into the crazily arch Cruella is fun to watch, fuelling the mayhem to follow. The surrounding cast is marvellous, adding textures and punchlines to every scene. And Thompson is hilarious as the riotously arrogant Baroness ("Gorgeous and vicious, my favourite combination"), who struggles to acknowledge real talent when she sees it. It's a show-stopping role and Thompson doesn't waste a moment.

After the superb first hour, the narrative shifts into a rather typical revenge tale, albeit an unusually feisty one in which the characters continue to reveal themselves and develop their inter-relationships. The tone shifts into a more rock-and-roll vibe, adding layers as Cruella's hyper-focussed approach increases her star power while alienating her friends. The final act redemption feels a bit forced, but it's enjoyably bonkers enough to keep us thoroughly entertained.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 26.May.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall