Cruella, starring Emma Stone, Emma Thompson and Joel Fry and directed by Craig Gillespie, is the 2021 quasi-prequel to Disney’s 101 Dalmations.
Similar to 2014’s Maleficent, this tale posts the original film’s villain in the role of protagonist and explores her more sympathetic version of events – which ultimately ends up just being a very different story.
Reviewing Disney’s Cruella fairly poses a problem for me: I am a nearly 30-year-old straight man who enjoys sci-fi and simply am not the target demographic for the film.
So before I give my personal opinions on the movie, I’d like to balance them out with the following statement: If you’re interested in Cruella, you should watch it. I believe this movie will not disappoint anyone who thinks they would like it. It is well made, visually interesting and both younger audiences and Disney fans have been celebrating it.
Now I will speak on how I personally felt about Cruella. It’s fine.
I felt certain I would absolutely hate it and it ended up outperforming my every expectation.
Saying it’s “fine” may make it sound like I think the film is unremarkable, but it certainly is not. It’s the rare fine that achieves mediocrity spectacularly.
It’s a two-hour-and-14-minute barrage of dumb, cliché and derivative storytelling and acting decisions, presented with such confidence – and competence – that I at least can say I was not bored.
Not a single original idea is presented, but every single idea is presented loudly.
The absurdity of some of the clichés it chooses to use in the context of the puppy-murdering villain Cruella de Vill is amazing.
Let’s talk specifics and let’s do the bad first.
For one, Cruella herself is insufferable at times. If young women and girls are loving this performance, then I am happy for them – again knowing full well this movie wasn’t made for me.
But someone needs to step up and proclaim: Stone’s British accent is awful. That, with the fact that our protagonist narrates the film while constantly calling herself a genius, makes her frequently unlikable.
Secondly, the musical choices throughout the film, while also celebrated by many, did not do it for me.
While I will give them credit for leaning heavily on real-world period music, I would have enjoyed it more if so many weren’t so heavily used in popular film already.
I think I’ve covered my final complaint a bit already. Wow. This movie is dumb. How do you humanize a villain famous for wanting to murder puppies? The answer should have been, “You don’t! It’s okay for villains to be bad people.”
Their answer instead was, “We’re just gonna tell a totally different story about, basically, a different person.”
It was a dumb idea in conception, which then turned into a dumb script, then executed with such flair and gusto that I begrudgingly respect Cruella, just a little.
Now for the good stuff.
The costume design, above all, is presumably excellent. I say presumably, because I wear gray shorts and a tank top seven days a week, so what do I know about fashion?
But characters throughout this movie are designed and dressed in ways that really do inform the story and add to the spectacle.
Next, the direction and cinematography, while Disney-safe, are actually impressive. Several times I was forced to admit that these people knew what they were doing and probably love classic films even more than me. Several homage-type shots made me feel that way – though where does homage end and being a poor ripoff begin?
Watch The Devil Wears Prada and then Cruella. You’ll get two flavors of the same story, both beautiful, one layered with societal critique and one about a puppy murderer getting in dress fights with her boss.
Again, if you think you’ll like Cruella, you probably will – it is fun, especially for its target audience.
I however, found it not quite wild enough to overcome its fatally flawed premise, so I give Cruella a C.