Although this is available on Disney +, it really is good to be back in front a big screen again – I went to the Regent Street Cinema to watch Emma Stone, of whom I’m very fond and always love watching, and Emma Thompson, about whom I feel much the same.
This is the origins story of 101 Dalmatians villain Cruella De Vil, tracing how she – Emma Stone – got so devilish, going from a little, shock-haired orphan girl called Estella in 1960s London, pulling Artful Dodger-style scams with her orphan chums (played by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser), getting a menial job at Liberty and really wanting to be a fashion designer, and then being spotted by grand dame designer Baroness – Emma Thompson – who takes to her new employees’ punkish spirit and nom de fashion: Cruella.
Then comes the twist that sets Cruella on a deadly collision course with her mentor the Baroness, a battle of tulles that unfurls as a series of heist-style sequences involving sabotaged fashion shows, stolen jewellery, crossing and double crossing…
From Craig Gillespie, the Australian director of I, Tonya, about the deadly figure skating feud between Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, you can see the same dog eat dog nature laid bare in this and it is pretty good fun. The film looks good, it’s nicely performed and has some nice lines from the poison pen of Tony McNamara (he wrote for Emma Stone in The Favourite) but it is more than a little confused and compromised by its role as a Disney franchise, coming over as a live action caper nodding to past Disney productions, from the original animation to the British-set live actioners of Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, with even some dodgy Van Dykish accents – why cast Paul Walter Hauser? I love him, but ee’s lowst ‘ere troiyin to sahnd Corkernee. I’ll put it down to homage and give him the benefit of heavy doubt.
There are simply too many twists and turns and big reveals, always going a plot and character development too far and, oh dear, it’s at least 20 minutes too long… It needed either more belly laughs, or more edgy threat to be really bitchy.
But mainly: some of the London locations were just wrong – it might seem OK to touristy eyes, but I don’t like it when you repeatedly say a fountain is in Regents Park and keep calling it the Regent’s Park Fountain, when there isn’t such a thing and, well, this just isn’t even in bloody Regent’s Park. It isn’t. I think it’s either in the Old Naval College at Greenwich or in the grounds of Knebworth. I mean, why would you do that? There are hundreds of people on the cast and crew list, many of them British – wouldn’t they have mentioned this? Strictly speaking, such heinous geographic and locational laxity should disqualify a film with me before it gets out of the block.
All that said, Jenny Beavan’s costumes are terrifically witty and inventive, and I can see Emma Stone doing the part again, if she wanted, relishing the villainy. It’s not her finest hour, but it’s not bad and sees her go up a notch in her stardom, carrying a blockbuster well enough and probably earning a shot at another prequel sequel, next time with more dogs. I’d probably watch it, too.