[4 stars]

Oh, what a wonderfully unexpectedly deep and dark confection. And from Disney no less. Who knew they could do psychopaths and still keep it all PG? To be fair, Emma Thompson’s (Last Christmas) Baroness is more a psychopath while Emma Stone’s (Zombieland: Double Tap) Cruella is really a sociopath, but why split dog hairs? Both performances are nearly flawless.

There is something for everyone in this story: mystery, surprises, fashion, music (seriously, a heck of a soundtrack from the 60s-80s), snark, heists, and cuteness (even if mostly CGI’d). However, it is a bit dark for the wee ones, so it is more of a 3 quadrant flick rather than a full family affair.

Part of the real brilliance of this story is that it not only provides a backstory for one of Disney’s more heinous criminals (from the kid’s stories) but it also builds out the origin of the henchmen Jasper and Horace in the guise of Joel Fry (benjamin) and Paul Walter Hauser (Songbird) respectively.

The story also manages to shim up with everything we already knew about 101 Dalmatians in a quite wonderful, if rather forced, way.

If I have any real criticisms on the execution of the story by director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya) it was around the critical shift for Stone’s arc. There is a moment (it is obvious), that she is forever forged as the criminal we grew up to fear. But, sadly, it isn’t crisp visually. It’s a story beat but we don’t really see the final transformation. The movie quickly sweeps on and you forgive it, but it’s the one element that I felt he missed amidst the opulent cinematography and framing that carried the swift and biting comedy along. It really is a dark and wonderful surprise of a film.

Cruella Poster

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