For an empire built on family-friendly entertainment, one of the great ironies of Disney has always been the enduring, irresistible appeal of its villains.
After all, who’d want to be Snow White, pining for some pallid prince, when you could be the wicked, magic-mirror-wielding queen; or aspire to be The Little Mermaid’s boy-besotted Ariel, when the fabulous, Divine-inspired sea witch Ursula is right there?
Give me single, sinister and stylish every time.
Disney seemed to acknowledge this with Maleficent (2014), their confused attempt to flesh out the evil doyenne of Sleeping Beauty, and now – in a spirit not unlike Warner Bros’ Oscar-winning meme magnet Joker (2019) – they’ve turned their attention to Cruella, the dog-napping high-fashion priestess who made the animated One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961) (and its 90s live-action remake) so much more fun.
Directed by Australian filmmaker Craig Gillespie – whose depiction of another troubled beauty queen in I, Tonya must have endeared him to Disney executives – Cruella is an origin story of pop’s most infamous fur fetishist, loosely intended as a prequel to the Glenn Close film and set in a hyper-designed 70s London that it wears like a pair of knock-off, mall-bought Doc Martens. (Don’t look for any realistic economic squalor here.)