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Disney’s Cruella (PG)

Starring Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Mark Strong

Directed by Craig Gillespie

How did Cruella de Vil become the PETA-baiting sociopathic fashionista she is in Disney’s 1961 animated classic 101 Dalmatians (which later inspired the 1996 live-action re-do with Glenn Close and a few episodes of Once Upon a Time)? The answers are in this set-in-1970s London prequel which chalks De Vil’s misdeeds — and hatred for the spotted mutts — up to a traumatic upbringing, and to some degree, genetic make-up (we’re not just talking about her signature B&W skunk hairstyle). After a stint as a grifter, Emma Stone’s Harley Quinn-esque Estella (Cruella is a childhood nickname coined by her mother) finds work at a departmental store, first as a lowly housekeeper and later a promising designer for mentor and the bane of her existence, haute fashion legend Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson summoning her inner Miranda Priestley). The devilish Ms D’s origin story is a heist flick, a rags-to-riches tale, a workplace comedy, and a revenge thriller all rolled into one, which explains the two-hour-plus runtime. But the two Emmas are fun to watch as they camp it up, trying to one up on each other amid the dazzling costumes (including one outfit that goes on in flames a la The Hunger Games) and rocking jukebox soundtrack (‘Sympathy for the Devil’ is too on the nose). Alas therein lies the problem: you can’t have too much fun from rooting for a future villain; it just feels, well, wrong. (Lest you forget, this is the woman who, in the animated original, instructs her henchmen to kill a litter of puppies by any means necessary: “Any way you like. Poison them. Drown them. Bash them in the head.” At least, the reverse-engineering narrative doesn’t totally retcon Cruella’s roguish reputation — like what Maleficent did to the eponymous evil fairy in Sleeping Beauty. (3/5 stars) Also on Disney+’s Premier Access

Photo: Disney

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