‘Cruella’ is a very odd, yet highly watchable Disney departure from the normally family-friendly franchise, but that doesn’t make it a bad film. The film follows one of the most famous villains who Walt Disney himself created, the manipulative and powerful Cruella De Vil. Now, she is being played by Emma Stone, who is actually much better than the film deserves. ‘Cruella’ has a lot of good things going for it, but it also has a lot of bad things that hold it back from being the story it could have been.
When the trailers for Disney’s upcoming live-action “Cinderella” movie went live, even I started to get a little excited about the project. I mean, the movie’s being directed by Kenneth Branagh, the man behind such films as “Hamlet” and “My Week with Marilyn”, and it stars Emma Thompson—who’s been nominated for a staggering 24 Academy Awards—as the wicked stepmother. I just had to see what they’d done with this one.
The villain persona of Cruella de Vil has been around for decades, from the original short story by Dodie Smith to the screen version by 101 Dalmatians, to the 1991 TV movie starring Glenn Close. In fact, she has been around so long that when she took on the role in Disney’s live action film of The Hundred-Foot Journey, she was playing a character that was more than 40 years old.
It’s unlikely anyone would ask for a 134-minute story about the origins of a character who appeared in a 79-minute cartoon, but alas, Cruella is here. Since the film’s premiere, much of the conversation seems to have come from the same line of thinking. Questions such as: Why do we need it? Who is it for? dominated the speech. Frankly, I find this angle largely unnecessary and counterproductive. Sure, a bloated prequel to a Disney villain may not be the most ideal way to spend your time, but questions like this often say more about the person asking them than the film itself. This kind of reasoning suggests that the person asking the question has a very limited view of what entertainment can be, and doesn’t have the intelligence to consider that other people might have a different view that would make something like Cruella worth watching.
I admit that I have occasionally stooped to such criticism in the past, but that is something I am trying to avoid and hopefully eliminate from my reviews completely in the future. That said, Cruella is definitely a tweener, a film that clearly deviates from the Disney norm. But pre-teen films are often the most interesting to discuss; they don’t stack up. So no, I’m not going to try to tell you exactly who Cruella is targeting (judging by box office results and word of mouth, it’s a lot of people), but I will address how this oddity is very unbalanced, but oddly compelling.
Disney likes to kill parents
But if there’s one thing Cruella has taken from other Disney films, it’s the desire to kill off the main character’s parent in the prologue to bolster her tragic story. Young Estella (before later becoming her alter ego Cruella) often gets involved in fights at school because she has half-black, half-white hair. She’s clearly a fashion genius, but her mother Catherine (Emily Beachum) decides it’s best to pull her out of school and move to the city.
But along the way, she stops at an opulent mansion during a party and insists that Estella stay in the car while she tackles an unknown task. Naturally, Estella immediately leaves the car to go for a drive, inadvertently attracting the attention of the owner’s vicious dalmatians, who immediately chase her through the garden. At that moment she sees Catherine talking to the stranger, who immediately tells the dalmatians to attack Catherine. The dogs push Catherine off a cliff into the water. She died, and now Estella is an orphan.
There are several problems with this scene:
- This is the kind of tragic story we see in the parody of this film. Seriously, you can’t get more literal than that about Cruella’s hatred of dogs.
- The CGI work on Dalmatians can be compared to Show Dogs.
- The slow motion used is very annoying.
Knowing I had about two hours left to watch, I gave a resounding O NO! The prologue is very bad, and this scene is the worst of all. Fortunately, the film improves considerably from there. Estella sets out alone and gets there with the help of two thieves, Jasper and Horace (played by adults Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser). The trio grow up together and steal for a living.
At the moment, Estella (now played by Emma Stone) is still hoping to break into the British fashion world. She takes a job as a maid in a department store and attracts the attention of the Baroness (Emma Thompson), a strict boss of the fashion warehouse. As many have noted, the film will be a Disney version of The Devil Wears Prada, with Cruella sneaking in at night and conquering the fashion world by outdoing the Baroness with grand gestures.
The plot of Cruella is not much different from previous Disney remakes/syquels/prequels. Once again we have an orphaned protagonist and, in the spirit of Maleficent, to build empathy for this character who will eventually become a psychopathic villain, the film pits him against an even more evil villain. Instead, there are many differences – in Craig Gillespie’s direction, production design, costumes and soundtrack.
As soon as I heard of Craig Gillespie’s involvement in this project, I was intrigued to see what the end result would look like. Like his directorial style in I, Tonya, the camera is hyperactive. Compared to Disney’s usual direction, it does have some style, but as so often with Cruella, they could have done with less. The film plays out like a long montage to the tunes of various songs you’ve probably heard too many times, and I got tired of it all pretty quickly. Even in films like Goodfellas (which Cruella resembles in more ways than one), Scorsese manages to include intimate moments, despite the fast pace, use of editing and popular music. Gillespie seems to repeat some of his inspirations without adding anything new.
The soundtrack, which a lot of people seem to love, is key to a lot of my frustrations with Cruella. Of course, most of the songs are great. Who doesn’t love Sympathy for the Devil? It’s also the most obvious music choice for a villainous character. And when this happens shortly after another explanation of how Ville is pronounced, everything becomes too much. From Feeling Good to One Way Or Another, each needlepoint has a great lack of imagination. For a film trying to create a Britpunk aesthetic, the soundtrack is definitely not punk.
Worse, Cruella’s score is played by Nicholas Britell. Why not skip a few songs and let one of the best composers do his job?
I think we can all agree that Emma Stone
But there will be absolutely no slander against Emma Stone in this article. Whatever Cruella’s problems are, Stone is not the cause of them. This is the best part of the movie. I’m no accent expert, but I’m pretty sure his British accent is spot on. And it doesn’t matter at all.
His presence on the screen is unique in all his works. She can also be a bit of a bully (in a good way), so it’s worth seeing how much fun she has composing here. You can even turn a blind eye to the completely unnecessary voiceover because Stone says it so wickedly hilarious.
…and Emma Thompson also.
Thompson, as Stone’s colleague, is also good. There are clear echoes of Miranda Priestley in Baroness, except that there is almost no humanity in Baroness. Between her nine-minute naps, she not only abuses her employees, she enjoys them.
In a vacuum, it seems great to see the Emmas compete in Oscar-worthy costumes. When the film focuses on their conflict, we see glimpses of that potential.
Has Cruella accomplished much?
There are key parts of Cruella that I really like. I’d watch it if I were Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, every day. There’s a certain quality that makes me unable to take my eyes off the screen, even if what’s happening is pretty bad. But I can’t help but think the whole product is a mess.
No one should expect a Taxi Driver-esque psychological study in the origin story of a Disney villain; nor should you, with Disney sure, expect the film to elevate a character’s insanity to the necessary satirical heights. Cruella is stuck in a strange in-between position and ends up spending a lot of time trying to humanize a man who will later become a dog killer herself. But don’t worry! That Cruella loves dogs! Seriously, the only reason we don’t see Cruella as a full-fledged dog killer is because the movie has to keep up the bizarre facade that she was actually a misunderstood psychic all along.
She really has fun with her idea, even though she wants to take the character’s tragic roots seriously. But not serious enough to have depth. Even with the stylistic changes, like the rest of Disney’s production, it’s mostly story, story and more story. Sometimes it’s good – I’d be an incomplete person if every movie turned me into a puddle of emotion – but this script isn’t good enough.
Finally, we have a Disney movie that doesn’t treat the gay character like a caricature. A remarkable update for a studio that is still many years behind. Cruella also reminds us that Paul Walter Hauser should be in everything.
I’d love to see a movie where Emma Stone and Emma Thompson compete against each other in beautiful dresses, completely unrelated to intellectual property. Ironically, we’ll probably never see a movie like this that isn’t tied to something familiar, so maybe Cruella is more about the state of dissolution of the film industry than anything else.
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How do you load…”Cruella” is a very odd, yet highly watchable Disney departure, in which Emma Stone plays the title character, an acrimonious fashion designer who transforms a small town into a 30-room mansion of her own design. We’ve seen Disney movies that focus on the villain, but this one has a bit of a twist, as the lead character is given screen time, and we actually get to understand what drives her to do what she does (which, in this case, is build a house that fits her exact specifications).. Read more about cruella live-action movie and let us know what you think.
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