Reel Dad: Disney’s new ‘101 Dalmatians’ prequel ‘Cruella’ is just what we need

After the year we have had, we need a movie that whisks us to a fantasy world of fun, frolic and frenzy.

Disney’s delightful prequel “Cruella” may not be the most original film we will experience in 2021 but, so far, it offers the most entertainment. Thanks to a precise attention to detail, energetic performances and a light-hearted respect for the animated original, the film delivers more than it promises. And that equals a lot of movie fun.

For anyone who remembers the original animated version of “101 Dalmatians” from 1961, or the live-action remake from 1996, the image of a mean-spirited woman with a head of black and white hair fills our movie memories. But we don’t necessarily know this lady well. All we learn about Cruella from the original is that she is obsessed with Dalmatians, fast-driving roadsters and her perpetually-lit cigarette holder. And, in the 1996 live-action remake, we also pick up that she loves extravagant clothing.

The new film creates a fictional backstory to help us understand how this complicated woman could develop such passions. With that predictable Disney touch, the filmmakers take us back in time to an event that defined a young girl’s view of the world, progressing through the years as she bonds with bumbling burglars Horace and Jasper and, ultimately, initiates a career in fashion design. Along the way Cruella begins to work for “the Baroness,” a powerful lady who presents a mysterious past, a lavish wardrobe and a haughty attitude. All with style.

Their relationship - a bit reminiscent of Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” - flourishes in the ever-so-capable talents of Emma Stone and Emma Thompson. These Oscar-winning actresses seem to have the time of their lives as they display delicious dresses from costume designer Jenny Beavan and deliver devilish dish penned by a collection of screenwriters. While the film’s narrative turns seem to borrow from familiar movies from the past (including “Sneakers” and “The Great Muppet Caper”) the chemistry between Stone and Thompson feels as fresh as today. What the film lacks in originality, it more than makes up in tone and style as director Craig Gillespie - who hit the right approach to “I, Tonya” a couple of years ago - creatively threads a needle as challenging as any prequel could embrace. The director may, in fact, achieve what other versions of this story have only suggested, that Cruella could be a misinterpreted woman not just a misguided lover of spotted puppies.

Summary: Cruella

Content: High. This prequel to the classic story of an eccentric lady fascinated by Dalmatians delivers a lot of fun at the movies.

Entertainment: High. Emma Stone and Emma Thompson have a great time delivering dishy dialogue in fabulous fashions.

Message: Medium. We don't watch movies like this for a message. We look for the fun. And Cruella delivers.

Relevance: High. Anyone who loves to have fun at the movies should enjoy this Disney delight.

Opportunity for Dialogue: High. For anyone who remembers 101 Dalmatians, this new movie will give you a lot to talk about.

A movie this fun feels like just the right tonic after a torturous time for our world. We often look to movies to explain what can be difficult to understand and to escape what may be arduous to acknowledge. With our world starting to open up, the movies may ultimately return from that experience we can only stream to that adventure we want to share in theaters. No matter where you may be with your own choices about entertainment, “Cruell”a delivers the good, and the dish, whether you see it on a big screen or from the comfort of home.

“Cruella” runs 2 hours, 14 minutes, is rated PG-13 for “some violence and thematic elements,” opening May 28 in theaters and on Disney+.