Cruella

Cruella ★★★★

So I'm there watching 'Cruella', and I'm left largely agog at it's dynamism, punk rebel spirit, and sheer filmmaking bravado. For those who've sat through Disney's stale, flat, dutiful IP-servicing live-action reduxes of 'The Lion King', 'Aladdin', and 'Beauty And The Beast', its willingness to bob into less comfortable territory will he most welcome.

'Cruella' doesn't give a fuck about being dutiful, or about servicing IP. Craig Gillespie has produced something that's tonally closer to 'I, Tonya' (who would win in a contest of the domineering villainous matriarchal figures - Emma Thompson's Baroness or Allison Janney's LaVona Harding? THAT would be a movie to watch), what with the voiceover confessionals, the rapid cycling through the protagonist's life and falling-upward progress, and of course both films share Paul Walter Hauser as a comic stooge, a corrosive influence in 'I, Tonya' but a largely positive figure here. And of course, Gillespie knows his Scorsese too, and deploys a dizzying array of long takes, confident camera moves, and period-apposite (if slightly overfamiliar) needle-drops to keep the pace cooking.

He's also helped by his principals, of course. Emma Stone doesn't overreach in differentiating between inhabiting both Estella and Cruella, but works subtly, changing her posture and bearing depending upon which personality she's displaying. And Thompson's Baroness is an instant classic Disney villain, not actively malign for the most part but just sociolathically indifferent. One of her best, and most chilling, moments finds her making a semantic point on the minutiae of an employment contract.

Obviously, there are still moments where the whole Disneyish nature of the enterprise comes to the fore, despite Gillespie's efforts to suppress it. As with the recent 'Raya And The Last Dragon', there's a growing, insidious tendency for modern slang vernacular to find its way into proceedings ('did you though?', 'snowflake', 'bestie', 'on the regular'), which plays against any ambitions to achieve timelessness. And we have to contend with the weakest digitally assisted depiction of parasailing since 'Die Another Day'.

Carping aside, 'Cruella' deserves to stand as Disney's 'Joker'. An exacting and even nihilistic study of mental illness and split personalities filtered through the prism of a studio franchise. And there's mother issues and a twist involving parentage in both movies too, as well as compellingly scuzz-brown period design packed with detail (Golden Wonder crisps!).

Whatever rules Craig Gillespie had to break to get 'Cruella' made, the Disney factory could use more rebels like this.

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