How Many Dalmatians?

Oscar-winner Emma Stone stars as the fashion designer Cruella de Vil ((Laurie Sparham / Disney))

Watch in theaters or stream on Disney+ (w/added fee), “Cruella”

How Many Dalmatians?

The newest from Disney is a live-action origin story of Cruella de Vil, the infamous villain from the 101 Dalmatians franchise. In a brilliant twist, the villain isn’t our young star, played by Oscar-winner Emma Stone. Instead, the film creates a character not unlike the Miranda Priestly role played so venomously by Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada”. The Baroness, who rules her fashion house with iron fist and withering scorn, is brought to chilly life by another Oscar-titled actor, Emma Thompson. Directed by Craig Gillespie, the film also features Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser and Emily Beecham. Jenny Beavan designed the incredible costumes.

You might remember Jenny Beavan as the short, spunky woman who wore a bejeweled leather jacket as she collected the Oscar for Costume Design in 2016. As costume designer for “Cruella”, she created the looks for not only Emma Stone, but also Emma Thompson, who plays Cruella’s fashion industry boss-turned-rival. It was Beaven, 40 years ago, who designed the “Sense and Sensibility” costumes, which also starred Thompson. She utilized those years of experience and expertise to design the more than 30 punk looks for 70’s London.

A mashup of Orphan Annie, Harley Quinn, and “The Devil Wears Prada”, this origin story of “Cruella” is not a movie for children, but fashionistas should flock. I watched many guys in the movie theater I was in, leaving for snacks and clearly not engaged. But there were some serious fans in the audience. As we left the theater excitedly discussing the film, more than one group came up to take pictures in front of the poster outside.

Emily Zemler, for the Los Angeles Times spoke to Stone, Gillespie, production designer Fiona Crombie and costume designer Jenny Beavan. “This ‘Cruella’ combines ’70s London punk and Alexander McQueen in bold fashion” May 28, 2021, Los Angeles Times

Stone said of the unlikely collision of punk-era London and a Disney origin story, “It was a time where there was a big shift into counterculture and [the] Sex Pistols, anti-establishment mentality. Obviously this is a Disney movie about a villain. This isn’t really as punk as it gets. But that era and that feel of going against the grain in a major way, especially in London, is exciting for a character like Cruella, who is born to be bad. And definitely doesn’t want to blend in, deep down. Even though Estella is a bit more conventional because of her nurture, I think the true nature of Cruella is letting your freak flag fly.”

There are many references to the original cartoon. The young hoods that orphan Estella finds shelter with, both physically resemble Cruella’s henchmen and they’re named Horace and Jasper. There’s a childhood friend named Anita who grows up to play a larger role in Cruella’s career launch…who will later be gifted a dalmatian pup named Pongo. We even hear a bit of the Cruella theme song played on the piano.

The punk scene of 1970’s London is a fabulous setting and the focus on fashion design gives the film a great milieu. The acting is top-notch with more than usual character development. At two hours plus, there’s time to delve into scenarios that might warrant a young woman, bullied, orphaned and a street urchin, to grow up cruel and take on an alternate personality to seek revenge. Every fashion showdown between the two Emma’s is a delight. And if there are far fewer dogs than the cartoon…well, I didn’t mind one iota.

Drinks With Films rating: 3 1/2 coupe glasses of Champagne, sipped while posed in high fashion (out of 5)

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