“Cruella” Review: A little brilliant, a bit bad, but mostly mad

Image Courtesy of Disney

Another year, another Disney live-action remake. This time, it’s the origin story of the infamous Disney Villain Cruella DeVil. Going into this movie, my initial fears were that it was just a cash-grab for Disney to use its IP and that they were going to soften up the classic villain, to make her more of an anti-hero (see Maleficent).

To an extent, the movie does feel like a cash grab just from the sheer notion of its existence. It’s not like anyone was asking for a Cruella origin story, but we got one anyway and the protagonist seems to have softer edges than her normal villainous self. Where this film succeeds, at least, is in its setup for the character we eventually meet. Unlike what we were previously led to believe from the trailer, this movie is less like a Disney version of Joker, but more like The Devil Wears Prada with a hint of Ocean’s Eleven. It’s an up-and-coming fashion designer trying to impress her hellish boss; while also planning some fun heists in between with her two childhood pals Jasper(Joel Fry) and Horace(Paul Walter Hauser). Also, Cruella’s mom was killed by a pair of angry dalmatians, because it’s not a Disney movie without some dead parents.

The outfits in this movie were the main highlights. You could feel that this was a fashion designer’s world and we’re constantly stunned by this movie’s costumes. I could easily see this getting nominated, or even winning, Best Costume Design at next year’s Oscars. Bravo! You can also tell Disney spent a lot of money just to get the rights for the music on the soundtrack because the playlist is bumping with classic 70s hits. While it borrows elements from other movies, the story itself feels unique enough to stand on its own.

Emma Stone also had big shoes to fill coming after Glenn Close’s career-defining performance as Cruella. No other actor in a live-action Disney remake has been able to capture that same manic energy as Close did when playing the classic Disney Villain. Close was flawlessly terrifying, screen-stealing and just the right amount of hammy to make that character work. However, Emma Stone pairs surprisingly well with Close’s Cruella. She hams it up in the right ways but is still more grounded since she’s still not a full-fledged villain just yet. It reminded me of James McAvoy’s and Micheal Fassbender’s takes on Professor X and Magneto coming after the heels of Sirs Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. We learn more about a young Estella before she takes on the Cruella persona and you can feel Cruella’s rage and drive to beat Baroness von Hellman, played by Emma Thompson. You can understand why she becomes the fashion icon she does in the original movie.

Image Courtesy of Disney

However, things start to fall apart when they try to play it a little too safe. Similar to what was done with Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent, all that potential was swept under the rug by making Cruella an anti-hero. At first, you almost feel that this is a younger version of the original character and can see how and why this version will transform into the version we see down the road, but they quickly backtrack it. For example, Cruella makes a joke that the Baroness’ dalmatians would make a great fur coat (an obvious nod to the original), but when Jasper asks if she’d really kill the dogs, she says she was just kidding. It would’ve been almost perfect if the movie didn’t try to make us sympathize with its protagonist by having her A) not hate dogs and B) not be all that bad compared to the Baroness.

Emma Thompson’s Baroness is basically Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, with Cruella being like Anne Hathaway’s character. This rivalry between boss and employee would’ve easily worked well without the shoehorned familial connection. In the movie, we discover that the Baroness intentionally had the dalmatians push Estella’s adoptive mother off a cliff because she threatened to expose her secret child since she is Cruella’s birth mother. The Baroness is essentially more like Cruella than Cruella in this movie. Maybe a future sequel will see her becoming more conniving like her mother?

Image Courtesy of Disney

The film does suffer from what I would call prequel-itis, where it unnecessarily set-ups or introduces characters from the original that do not need to be there or are just there for the sake of having a nod to the original.

The most notable examples are the inclusion of Anita and Roger in this movie, who as we know from the original, are the owners of the title dogs in 101 Dalmatians. It annoys me that they made her last name “Darling”, which was always an inside joke from the dogs in the original book. Both Anita (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and Roger (Kayvan Novak) are also just shoehorned in here for no apparent reason. Anita was childhood friends with Cruella, as in the original book and animated movie, but later on, also happens to be a journalist covering the fashion circuit and writing articles about Cruella. Roger has no other purpose being in here other than being a forced nod to the original. Then you have Jasper and Horace also being childhood friends with a young Estella before she becomes Cruella. Seriously, imagine having previously met all of your future co-workers when you were a child in a city as big as London. The odds are wild. 

Then there’s the mid-credits scene where (SPOILER ALERT) Cruella gifts Anita and Roger a dalmatian puppy each, which sure enough are Pongo and Perdita. Which probably creates several plot holes. Why give them each a dog and tell them she’d see them soon? Did she know they would eventually meet and their dogs would have puppies? Why did she give Roger a dog if she barely knew him? Are Pongo and Perdita then siblings?! Did Cruella intentionally set up the events of 101 Dalmatians? Did she forget what dalmatian puppies look like by the time of the original movie?!

Maybe these new plot holes could be fixed or addressed in a potential sequel still set before the events of 101 Dalmatians. Show us Cruella going further into her madness and becoming more obsessed with fur so that she’ll be closer to the classic Disney villain we all recognize. In a recent interview, Emma Stone and Emma Thompson thought of an idea for a Cruella sequel in the style of The Godfather Part II with Emma Stone playing a young Cruella and bringing back Glenn Close to play an older version of the character and reflecting on her life and the choices that made her. Now THAT sounds like a Cruella movie I’d want to see! Take my money now! Since Cruella 2 just got the green light, make this happen, Disney! Give us a Godfather Part II-style Cruella sequel with Glenn Close so that woman can finally win the Oscar she rightfully deserves!

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