Cruella comes as the culmination of two interrelated trends.
Most obviously Cruella is the latest in a long line of live-action (or pseudo-live-action) adaptations of classic Disney objects that aim to turn the studio’s animated back catalog into a source of rich intellectual property that is constantly being made for quick Income can be reduced. Movies like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King all grossed over a billion dollars, so there is sure to be an audience hungry to see beloved childhood classics put into live action.
Ironically, 101 Dalmatians was one of the first films to make that leap from pencil and ink to live action, with an adaptation (and sequel) in the mid-1990s. Indeed, it’s debatable that Glenn Close’s incarnation of Cruella DeVil is just big enough in culture that simply restarting the premise might seem a little shallow. Jon Favreau could direct second Pseudo live action version of The jungle Book for the company, but only because the previous efforts didn’t have a cultural footprint.
So Cruella isn’t content with being a no-nonsense reinterpretation of the classic Disney cartoon. Instead, the film draws on another contemporary trend when it comes to managing these intellectual traits: the rogue reboot. Cruella is probably a piece with the newer pop culture like ratchet, Vicious or joker, all works that have re-imagined a known intellectual property through the lens of its antagonist. There is obviously money in this concept joker earn over a billion dollars and Vicious Earn half a billion and inspire a sequel.
So Cruella provides a story of origin for the classic Disney villain and invites the audience to meet the monstrous fashion designer whose defining trait was her desire to skin lots of adorable pups to make the perfect coat. It is certainly an ambitious task. While Cruella is one of the most noticeable villains in Disney canon, with one of the catchiest theme songs, she’s hardly the most complex or nuanced. There is hardly a tragedy that can be broken down into such a terribly monstrous character “If she doesn’t scare you, it won’t do any harm.”
This creates the central tension in Cruella, and the problem that film can never quite solve. Cruella is a much stronger film when it is out of the shadows of the 101 Dalmatians and becomes its own thing, but it suffers greatly when pulled back into the gravity of the original Disney classic. Cruella works reasonably well as a fashion heist movie from the seventies, but struggles trying to be a compelling story about a villain’s origins for a character who really never needed one.
Cruella DeVil has never been a particularly complex character. She is as definite a villain as exists in the Disney canon. All of you “Thing” is that she wants to turn cute dogs into fashion accessories. She doesn’t really bother to hide that desire. In addition, Cruella acts as a deeply uncomfortable person. 101 Dalmatians never offers the character an excuse or justification like The Lion King does for Scar. Even her name lacks nuances. Your name is literal “Cruella DeVil”who manages to suggest the words “horrible”, “Devil” and even “Scoundrel.” That’s the character, right there.
To some extent, Cruella DeVil’s character is really just a series of iconographies layered over an intentionally cartoonish villain. That’s what it says Cruella makes sure to do much of the character’s visual design as he completely rewrites and reworks her backstory. Cruella retains her impasto white complexion and mop of white hair because these are really the most important aspects of character. After all, that’s all anyone will remember from her previous appearances on the villain.
Understandably, that’s not exactly the case Cruella lots of hooks in a particularly compelling characterization for the villain. The authors Dana Fox and Tony McNamara fall back on the standard building blocks of such a story. How Cruella develops and explores its main character, it becomes a loose collection of ideas and concepts taken from better films and put together as clumsily as possible to expand a two-dimensional figure into the facsimile of a three-dimensional human.
These are hands down the weakest and most frustrating aspects of the Cruellawhile the film goes through a checklist of elements intended to explain such an origin story. Cruella is full of cumbersome dialogue that overstates every aspect of the character. Most obviously Cruella decide that “Cruella DeVil” is an absurd name for a human being and instead devotes a lot of real estate to explain how it was called that.
The character that would become known as Cruella was born to Estella, but had a vicious streak in her. “Her name is Estella, not Cruella,” her mother tells her when the audience hears a box being ticked. Later, a henchman drives a nice looking car in front of the house. It’s a DeVille car, a symbol of wealth and power. Of course, the uncultivated henchman mispronounces it as “Devil”, and that gets stuck with the explanation of the character’s name. If it’s less clumsy than the origin of Han Solo’s name in Solo: A Star Wars Story, that is only partially so.
This is the level of explanation Cruella insists on offering the level of detail in his attempt to offer a report on a one-dimensional villain. Cruella even begins with the birth of the main character, a metaphor as powerful as any for the difficulty of the story in deciding what is really important about that character and their identity. Everything about Cruella is over-determined. Even her passion for fashion is explained in terms of pop psychology, which stems from her mother’s desire to fit her into society. “You have to follow a pattern” her mother tells her. “There is a way of doing things.”
Everything about Cruelle DeVil is pathologized. Cruella even goes out of his way to explain why the character may have an irrational aversion to Dalmatians when there is a terrible family tragedy associated with the animals. However, there is very little passion for any of that. There is no point in the film actually want knowing anything about Cruella, or that the film has a real curiosity about the character. Instead, it seems like the character’s core attributes have been fed into an algorithm and a blueprint has been provided for details that the film made had to to explain.
In fact, this is the problem and the paradox with Cruella as the origin story. As a character in 101 Dalmatians, Cruella DeVil is a woman who wants to murder puppies. Any origin story about the character must be explained The. Everything else is secondary. Cruella’s main motivation in 101 Dalmatians is that she is a woman who is irrationally obsessed with making fashion accessories from living things. Forget the character’s name, forget the character’s backstory, forget the character’s mental health diagnosis, what good is an origin story if it’s not tied to a character’s single defining attribute?
Cruella is understandably reluctant to make a two and a half hour film about a psychopath killing puppies. To like Vicious and joker before that, the film is effectively trying to turn a definite villain into something of an antihero. The clear intention of Cruella is that at the end of the story the audience is looking for the title character. However, this creates a strange dissonance for the villain of 101 Dalmatians is a character that is not designed to arouse sympathy in the audience.
Cruella contains a few weird hints that Cruella wanted to skin some dogs to make a coat, but these are played as knowing jokes rather than serious business. Indeed, Cruella ends with the title character being further removed from their classic characterization than in the second act of the film. Disney quite sensibly understands that the audience will not turn out to be puppy killers. However, that only begs the question of what is the point of this particular exercise. Cruella do not know and this is a serious problem.
Instead, Cruella often feels like a collection of elements taken from other hit films of this particular genre. Cruella creates sympathy for his leadership by pitting them against a monstrous fashion designer named Baroness von Hellman. Baroness von Hellman is arguably a substitute for Cruella herself, and the film suggests that much of Cruella’s later personality was inspired by the ice-cold fashion designer. However, this by itself creates several problems. The Baroness is arguably closer to Cruella’s original characterization than Cruella herself, and the Baroness never does anything as bad as trying to skin pups.
To distract the audience from these obvious problems, Cruella structured as a twisted and tortuous narrative. The version of the character that appeared in appeared 101 Dalmatians was very straightforward, with an audience right away get their deal. In contrast, Cruella intentionally and aggressively complicates the character’s backstory. During the course of the film, Cruella is presented with no less than three traumatic backstories. The film plays a shell game in which key elements are hidden from the audience in order to create more plot and more tension.
There is something paradoxical about all of this. Many of the twists and turns affecting Cruella’s backstory are easy to predict as they have been played countless times in countless films. In fact, the central stereotype is such a stereotype that even joker made a point of undermining and avoiding it. However, because of the way the film structures these revelations, the backstory is unnecessarily convoluted and cluttered. The audience is way ahead of the game, but Cruella herself is constantly being pulled from under her feet.
It doesn’t help that Cruella always follow the path of least resistance. The film is directed by Craig Gillespie who does a wonderful job I, Tonya. He brings the same style to Cruella, relied heavily on needle drops. While the soundtrack too I, Tonya felt knowing and playful, the soundtrack too Cruella feels condescending and obvious. Cruella goes to her first day at work while Nina Simone sings, “It’s a new morning, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me.” A sequence in which a bunch of animals is washed is on. set Car wash, because presumably there is no longer any obvious musical reference on the subject of washing.
In fact, the film’s final musical cue is almost adorably daring. It feels like it absorbs the glove that comes with the use of zombie At the end of Army of the Dead, because the audience is properly and finally introduced to Cruella DeVil to the sounds of the Rolling Stones. Sympathy for the devil. It’s such an absurdly obvious and superficial choice, and it’s illuminating that the production team chose to leave the song off the soundtrack album because it would likely have been (quite) criticized.
For all of that Cruella tries to explain its protagonist, the structure and plot of the film is disappointingly conventional. It could be reducing to describe Cruella how Girl boss meets joker over The devil Wears Pradabut it’s not unfair either. The film even plays a scene Bohemian Rhapsodywhere a frustrated artist caught in a downward spiral fires his lawyer in the back seat of a car and then throws him in the middle of the street. At one point, Cruella disappears into a bunch of look-a-likes, a scene straight from joker. It all feels very calculated and very cold, which is frustrating.
Cruella tries to cover up this conventional and predictable conspiracy by roughly gesturing on big ideas. It touches on concepts like feminism and punk rock and sets Cruella’s rise against the backdrop of 1970s London. As a kid, Cruella Quotes “I am a woman, hear me roar”before he admits “That wasn’t much in 1964, but it should be.” Likewise, the conflict between Cruella and the baroness is sometimes formulated in generational terms. When von Hellman asks about Cruella’s style, he replies: “All young people are doing this now.”
As in joker, Cruella keeps alluding to class conflict and mental health, but also doesn’t really have anything revealing or interesting to say. Cruella is potentially interesting when it focuses on the character as the working class grifter creating a persona to navigate the world of the rich, but it dramatically undermines that element with the final revelation of Cruella’s history and origins. Similarly, the film obliquely suggests that Cruella may be suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness, but then strangely falls back into the classic trope of evil as something inherited and inherited.
The most interesting scene in the film is an open and honest discussion between the Baroness and Cruella in which the Baroness explains why she has become so vicious and so angry. “You can’t take care of anyone else” the baroness explains. “Everyone else is an obstacle. You care what an obstacle wants or feels and you are dead. If I had cared for anyone or something, I might have died like so many brilliant women with a drawer full of invisible geniuses and a heart full of sad bitterness. You have the talent for your own label. Whether you have the killer instinct is the bigger question. “
A moment that raises all sorts of interesting and provocative questions and explicitly addresses the gender conflicts of the film. The implication is that the baroness turned out at least partially as she did because it was the only way for a woman to achieve what she wanted at the time. It’s a very pointed criticism that resonates with the setting of the 1970s film. After all, the UK was only a few years away from Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher, who was retrospectively claimed for her by the Spice Girls “Woman power” despite all questionable implications.
Unfortunately, Cruella is never particularly interested in pulling any of these strings and figuring out where it might actually lead. There’s arguably a much more interesting movie in Cruella that plays the implicit parallels between Cruella and Thatcher more explicitly, however Cruella falls back on banal feelings like “People need a bad guy to believe in” how news reporters deliver synopsis like, “Some call her a designer, others: vandals.” None of this would be a problem if Cruella didn’t feel so important and confident.
That’s a shame because there are parts of Cruella that works pretty well. Indeed, despite these fundamental and fundamental problems, Cruella is arguably a much stronger film than many of its contemporaries among the live-action remakes. Craig Gillespie has a lot of fun with it Cruella when the script allows it, for example when filming a botched break-in into a fashion house or a spontaneous punk concert that is helpfully set on a cover by the Stooges. I want to be your dog.
More precisely, the production and the design Cruella are impressive. The film has a very large and very art deco look that suits the inspiration and source material without feeling overly committed or loyal. Cruella is full of large rooms and high ceilings, strong lines and sharp contrasts that make the film look a bit more stylized and stylish than other adaptations like Aladdin or The Lion King. Fiona Crombie’s production design and Jenny Beavan’s costume design as well as the camera work by Nicolas Karakatsanis are particularly merited.
It helps that both Emma Stone and Emma Thompson are visibly having fun. Like Glenn Close before her, Stone seems to understand that the character endures because she is larger than life and that the audience was never drawn to Cruella because of her subtlety. As a result, Stone is growing up and the film benefits greatly from that choice. Much of Stone’s dialogue is driven by banal clichés about what the final stage of grief should be like “Revenge”, but Stone does a pretty decent job of getting this to work as well as possible.
Indeed, Cruella The closest thing to work is getting away from the baggage of a villain origin story for a villain who never needed an origin story. Cruella is fun as a pulpy fashion-robbing adventure film or a silly family film at work. He suffers when he tries to put too much weight on himself because he is unwilling to actually carry that weight in any meaningful direction. Maybe the production team barked at the wrong tree.