starring Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Mark Strong
screenplay by Dana Fox and Tony McNamara
directed by Craig Gillespie
by Walter Chaw It's better to think of Craig Gillespie's Cruella as a riff than as a prequel--a variation on a theme rather than the puzzle-box predecessor to a beloved intellectual property. In fact, one's ability to do so informs the extent to which this film is not merely enjoyable but indeed good. Cruella is a mindfuck of a construct, a postmodern exercise in which nothing of it could cohere without knowledge of, and experience with, other cultural artifacts--but even there, it occupies two spaces simultaneously: the Disney side, where the references are all to 101 Dalmatians, against the Gillespie side, where the references are to pop-cultural movements in music, fashion, even literature. Early on, a young Cruella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland), born "Estella," is urged by her saintly mother Catherine (Emily Beecham) to contain Estella's exuberant, sometimes-violent and "evil" side by dubbing her "Cruella" and, in so naming it, caging it. The suggestion, then, is that "Estella" is the polite-if-constricting requirement that Cruella be a prequel to a Disney "vault" classic, while "Cruella" is the Something Wild barely contained that, like Michelle Pfeiffer's resurrected Catwoman in Batman Returns, is a creature born of violence returned as the avatar for perversity and chaos. Imagine how great this good film would have been were it just the one with none of the other.