Review: Emma Stone creates sympathy for de Vil in rock n' roll 'Cruella'

Oscar winner Emma Stone is Disney villain queen Cruella de Vil in origin story that has style and attitude to spare.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Stylish, sassy and wickedly fun, "Cruella" is an origin story with a rock and roll attitude and plenty of bite.

Emma Stone is fully committed as Estella "Cruella" de Vil, the mad, barking villain queen from "101 Dalmatians." Here, director Craig Gillespie ("I, Tonya") fashions her into a goth queen in a dark story that's more "The Devil Wears Prada" than Disney, and he veers far enough away from the Mouse House formula that midway through the film he stages a convincing performance of the Stooges' sleazy punk rock anthem "I Wanna Be Your Dog." Obviously, this isn't your kids' "101 Dalmatians."

Emma Stone in "Cruella."

Since Cruella can't be the villain in her own story, she's pitted against an even frostier ice cold villainess, a fashion world maven dubbed the Baroness and played by Emma Thompson.

Thompson is divine as the even meaner Miranda Priestly, as the two Emmas clash while a treasure trove of classic rock hits and chestnuts (the Rolling Stones, Ike & Tina Turner, the Zombies, Deep Purple, the Animals, Queen, Blondie, oh my!) swirl around them on the soundtrack. The exquisite costumes and rich production design, mixed with the film's overall dark palate and sensibilities, make "Cruella" the best Tim Burton movie in years, even though Tim Burton had nothing at all to do with it. 

We follow Stone's Cruella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland plays her as a child) through her early years and defining traumas that set her on her path through 1970s London. These types of bad guy origin stories can either work ("Joker") or fall flat ("The Grinch") depending on the complexities of their characterizations, but "Cruella" strikes the right tone, even if it is a little too dark for children and a little too soft for adults. 

As Cruella's partners in crime, Horace and Jasper (Paul Walter Hauser and Joel Fry), help round out an impressive cast that also includes John McCrea as Cruella's confidant and Kirby Howell-Baptiste as a gossip columnist. At two-plus hours, "Cruella" could use a few trims. But as a mood board, it's a smashing success. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Cruella'

GRADE: B+

Rated PG-13: for some violence and thematic elements

Running time: 134 minutes

In theaters and on Disney+ Premium Access