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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Jun 21, 2021



‘CRUELLA’ is a prequel to the first two films, ‘101 Dalmatians’ in 1996 and ‘102 Dalmatians’ in 2000, with Glenn Close as Cruella de Vil, the uber villain who wants to kill Dalmatian puppies so she can make a fur coat. 

The series is based on a novel published in 1956 and was first made by Disney into an animated movie in 1961.

“Cruella” is an origin story for the character, set in the 70s and showing how she was born and how she grew up as an orphan in London. 

We don’t know if there’s a public clamor at all for Disney to give Cruella an origin story, but the movie is worth watching if only for the first rate performances of the two Emmas in the lead, Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, both Oscar winners. 

They also get to sashay on cam in a series of dazzling costumes. Cruella is an uber villain but just like “Maleficent” and “Joker”, they now have to humanize her by giving her a back story that justifies why she becomes the way she is. 

We first see her as a baby named Estella Miller, born with her trademark two-toned hair which is all black on the right side and all white on the left side. 

Her mom is a seamstress but she seems to have better fashion sense than her mom. She can also be rebellious, strong-willed and when bullied in school, she fights back, ferociously. 

She can also be cruel when she insists on what she wants, so her mom calls her Cruella. They are hard up so her mom tells her they’ll move to London. 

But first, they visit the famous fashion icon, Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), to ask for monetary help. 

But instead of giving them her support, Estella sees her mother being attacked by the Baroness’ pet dalmatians until she falls of a cliff.

Before the dogs can also attack her, she manages to get away and secretly ride on a truck going to London where she meets two helpful streetkids, Jasper and Horace, both pickpockets. 

They grow up together. Ten years pass and Estella is now played by Emma Stone.

She and her two friends have become thieves and because of her fashion sense, she makes their own expert  disguises. 

Dreaming of getting a job in the fashion world, she lands a job as a janitress in a fashion store owned by the Baronness. 

She keeps on applying for a job connected with fashion, but the Baroness’ assistant keeps on rejecting her as a nuisance.

Then she gets drunk one night and re-arranges the store’s display window. The assistant is so mad at her, but when the Baroness arrives, she is surprisingly delighted by Estella’s innovative work and immediately hires her. 

She proves to be immensely talented and becomes the Baroness’ confidante. 

But eventually, Stella realizes through a necklace worn by her late mom, and which is now worn by the Baroness, that it’s actually the Baroness who intentionally instructed the dogs to kill her mother. 

So she becomes the Baroness’ biggest rival in haute couture, disguising herself as a new designer named Cruella who effortlessly upstages the Baroness in various fashion events. 

But there’s another big twist in their relationship, which of course, we will withhold so as not to spoil your viewing pleasure. 

The film is directed by Bruce Gillespie, best known for “I, Tonya”, the wickedly entertaining biopic of figure skater Tonya Harding that won Allison Janney an Oscar. 

In “Cruella”, he now reinvents the “101 Dalmatians” franchise with the villain now reborn with a revenge back story that makes her a sympathetic human, just like with what he did with Tonya. 

He has an outstanding visual style, aided by production designer Fiona Crombie who really delivers all the demands of the 60s and 70s period setting, and also a delightful vintage soundtrack that gives the film lots of kinetic energy.  

Not to be outdone are the spectacular costumes designed by Jenny Beavan, who has won the Oscar twice, for “Room with a View” and “Max Max: Fury Road”. 

To say that Beavan dressed the two Emmas to the nines would be an understatement. 

As two fashion divas on the warpath, they get to wear fabulous creations that dazzle in scene after scene, special that garbage gown Cruella wears in one scene. 

And in fairness to the two Emmas, they are both astute to know how to give campy, over-the-top portrayals that are highly entertaining. 

Stone in the vampy title role channels in her viciously offbeat portrayal of the crafty Abigail in “The Favourite”, but with an even more twisted spin.  Thompson, in turn, is clearly having a blast as the delightfully deranged and ego-maniacal Baroness. 

She stylishly echoes Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” and Daniel Day Lewis in “Phantom Thread”, making her Baroness a lot of wicked fun.

The movie is a big hit so we’re not surprised that they’re now preparing another sequel (or prequel?)  

Don’t leave right away during the end credits as there’s a special preview indicating that there will be another movie. 

The characters of Anita and Roger are already familiar to those who’ve seen the past “101 Dalmatian” films. They’re actually introduced here formally. 

Anita used to be a classmate of Estella and is now a reporter, while Roger is a lawyer who becomes a song writer and you’ll see him composing here the song “Cruella de Vil” from the 1961 movie. 

The dogs in that movie, Pongo and Perdita, are also introduced here as two Dalmatian puppies. So, Disney, let’s go on with cash grab.