Emma Stone is buttoned up in black, Emma Thompson is buttoned up in red— the colour palette is a direct reference to their hellish characters in the electrifying Disney-goes-dark film Cruella. Two of film’s most delightful faces light up their side-by-side Zoom windows, and despite the virtual press conference setting, these powerhouse performers joke with each other as if it’s just the two of them.
“My underwear was a sort of ship’s rigging,” Thompson says, revealing the underbelly of her jaw-droppingly exquisite costumes, “there were people hauling on ropes. Stone is slender as a lily and didn’t need to wear a corset like a frigging whalebone.”
“That’s what I was just about to say about you,” retorts a chuckling Stone: “you took the words right out of my mouth.”
The 101 Dalmatians origin story is set in 70s London, its streets stewing with punk rock anarchy. Stirring up wickedly stylish trouble to the tune of all the big old school hits—we’re talking The Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, Queen and friends—Cruella (Stone) crashes ostentatious balls, red carpets and society galas in a succession of grandiose and grunge counter culture ensembles, forcing out the old-guard fashion designer Baroness von Hellman (Thompson) and cementing herself as the future of fashion
Both Emma’s are clearly dazzled by the larger-than-life ensembles designed for their characters.
“Every time Em and I would come on set, we’d just look at each other and walk around each other, like we were sculptures or works of art,” enthuses Thompson.
“My very favourite outfit was that absolutely ludicrous dress I wear on the garbage truck, because there was a 40-foot train. It was nothing you’d ever be even remotely able to wear in real life,” Stone says with a sparkle in her eye, clearly still enamoured by the whimsical garment made of trash. Talk about sustainable fashion.
Cruella’s artistic direction is an opulent splendour, but the most impressive part? The plot revolves around two (literally) madly talented women competing to be the best in their craft. There is no romantic subplot, nothing to distract from the diabolical brilliance of which both the Baroness and Cruella are capable. It’s about damn time a big-budget film features female competition that isn’t over a man.
Brushing her signature British humour to the side for a beat, Thompson slows her quippy cadence and states with weight: “The Baroness says this wonderful thing: ‘if I hadn’t been single-minded, I might have had to put my genius at the back of the drawer like so many other women of genius who died without producing anything.’ And it actually is a very good point.”
The best fashion film since The Devil Wears Prada, Cruella is a gluttonous feast for the 70s style-and sonics-obsessed. Emma Stone’s cat eyes pop against kohl liner in the titular role alongside the ever-merry, aunt-you-wish-you-had Emma Thompson in an uncharacteristically evil role as Baroness von Hellman. Sure, origin stories like these come with the inevitable concern about empathizing with villains, but director Craig Gillespie, known for his ability to tell thrilling tales of female anti-heroes (see: I, Tonya), makes being bad feel like wickedly delicious fun.
The film plunges viewers into a Vivienne Westwood-inspired punk London, rife with bell bottoms, platform Docs and Ziggy Stardust lovers—alongside a bevy of retro rock and funk classics that must be so expensive only Disney could afford the licensing fees. As for the villain-in-waiting’s master plan, perhaps it is best summed up when she states this simple phrase: “I want to make art, and I want to make trouble.”