MOVIE REVIEW – In this prequel to “101 Dalmatians”, the youth of Cruella d’Enfer, the “villain” of the original film, is evoked in her conquest of the London fashion world. The film stars Emma Stone.
A creepy attraction to Dalmatians, a memorable wardrobe and a disarming cynicism, that’s all we knew about Cruella from Hell, in Dodie Smith’s 1956 novel, 101 Dalmatians, which was followed by multiple Disney adaptations.
For its return to cinemas, the company with the big ears is banking on Cruella, where one of its most famous villains reveals a past, and above all a story. We learn that her real name is Estella, that she was orphaned by an attack of ferocious Dalmatians and that she grew up in 1970s London, surrounded by two thieves, Jasper and Horace. All three make a living from their petty theft, and from Estella’s talent for making clothes.
However, the young woman dreams of something else. She wants to put her talent to good use in fashion and shake up a world that is too stuffy for her. She is quickly spotted by the Baroness, the most prominent stylist of the moment, played by Emma Thompson, who is as scornful and cold as she could wish… From then on, Estella has only one obsession, to take her place as fashion queen. She will do anything to achieve this, even let the darkest part of herself surface, the one her mother nicknamed “Cruella”.
The place and time where the plot takes place make sense. In the 1970s, London was experiencing a strong emergence of the punk movement, both in music and in fashion. Craig Gillespie, the director, gives a new flavour to the character, during the most baroque catwalk scenes or receptions… This aspect of the film is successful, the camera managing to capture the essence of this rebellious, inspired and audacious movement. But by trying to do too much, the choice of punctuating most of the sequences with rock hits from the 1970s and certain caricatured interpretations end up tiring the viewer.
The pace is essential in this type of film, Craig Gillespie’s choice proves judicious. The author of I, Tonya (2017) infuses the editing with the same precise sense of tempo and signs a “recreation” calibrated for the whole family and where nothing goes overboard, just like Disney’s cinematographic productions.
Nevertheless, the choice to place the character of Cruella at the top of the bill may seem surprising. What does it mean to make such a fundamentally detestable character admirable and sympathetic? While her struggles are commendable, it is not clear that Cruella is an example to which we can relate. Fortunately, the formidable Emma Stone gives her the necessary thickness to finally take an interest in her, or even appreciate her…