‘Cruella’ is Hollywood’s latest attempt to de-mystify classic characters – also a good way in extending profitable franchises. Based on Dodie Smith’s 1956 novel and especially from the 1961 Disney animated movie ‘101 Dalmatians’, ‘Cruella’ explores what made the story’s primary villain so wicked. Whilst occasionally taking the prequel route works in better understanding what came before, a few times it has come unstuck as the ‘Star Wars’ prequels have shown. ‘Cruella’ isn’t in that league as it offers the same style of colourful fun the original film had as its live-action hijinks become just as animated with each frame.

In the 1970’s, the Punk Rock movement is all the rage. ‘God Save the Queen’ by the Sex Pistols is screaming from radios and the ‘Anarchy in the UK’ mantra is rife. One soon to cause her own brand of chaos is aspiring fashion designer Estelle ‘Cruella’ de Vil (Emma Stone). Working with prestigious and fearsome fashion boss Baroness Von Hellman (Emma Thompson), Estelle revels in the high life. She swiftly wants more and will go to any lengths to obtain it. Sliding into a life of crime, Estelle becomes a famed criminal obsessed with Dalmatian furs. All fear her ways as Estelle earns her nickname of Cruella with fervent glee.

Craig Gillespie directs ‘Cruella’ with considerable panache. That’s exactly what’s needed as the film explodes with colour from the start. Occasionally it’s a bit too much, such is the richness in the spectacular production design and costuming. These elements help in getting behind the villainous façade Cruella projects as she becomes a student to the Baronness’ waspish ways. Unlike other prequels, ‘Cruella’ doesn’t feel like a waste of time learning new things as it adds to the complexity of Cruella’s warped villainy.

Without Stone and Thompson, ‘Cruella’ would have faltered. Both give excellent performances and carry the movie on their more than capable shoulders. They along with their co-stars seem to be having a grand time spouting ever more ridiculous dialogue. Where the movie suffers is from its overuse of retro music as well as slack pacing. The feeling of total excess is heightened by those two ingredients in spite of Cruella’s opulence. The rough energy makes it a very different type of work Disney usually puts out, making a welcome respite from the wholesome products it usually creates.

‘Cruella’ may ignore the ‘less is more’ mantra but it is never boring. Anchored by the fantastic leads and stylish look, it’s worth seeing. Undoubtedly there will be sequels which will hopefully iron away the wrinkles this one has. It’s a great way to further develop dormant franchises with ideas, and the lure of making more dollars, never far away.

Rating out of 10: 6

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