I went in with low expectations, and CRUELLA didn’t even meet those
Yay! Another villain origin story because audiences need to know what exactly made someone “go bad,” instead of accepting the standard “this person is just a shitty individual.” Society has delved deeper into studying the minds of history’s most depraved individuals, and the film industry follows suit. We’ve seen the likes of the Joker and Maleficent receive the respect they supposedly deserve, so why not wannabe-doggie-killer Cruella de Vil? After all, if one is willing to kill man’s best friend, she must have a reason why, right?
Craig Gillspie delivers an intriguing, and at times stunning, visual wonderland. While it’s far removed from what the 70s actually showcased fashion-wise, it works for the film which centers on Cruella standing out. The camera work is rather mediocre. When Cruella’s sanity is questioned, we’re given the same standard closeups we see in pretty much every other film. Nothing is inspired or creative; it’s just there. Gillspie has the ability to create something fun and edgy (see I, Tonya), but Cruella feels like Disney clipped his wings to make a family-friendly-ish dark comedy. Personally, I would have liked to see Maleficent’s Robert Stromberg return to the Disney fold and helm the project.
Viewers are taken through Estella/Cruella’s (Emma Stone) childhood up until she becomes a celebrated fashion designer. Her childhood is marked by a series of behavioral issues (and familial death because it’s Disney) until she eventually lands a job working for The Baroness (Emma Thompson), England’s hottest designer. Discovering The Baroness’ connection to her childhood, Estella morphs into Cruella, determined to get her revenge. As Estella one-ups the baroness at a series of fashion shows and parties, she unleashes fantastical avant-garde outfits that really do make one salivate. I assume Disney wanted a PG-13 dark comedy that could entice child viewers, but it isn’t really young child friendly and never actually pushes the envelope to attract adult audiences. It’s basically The Devil Wears Prada on crack for kids. The fashion is gorgeous, but the plotlines are tropey, basic, and boring. What ‘works’ for the villain origin story films is making them somewhat sympathetic, but Cruella is frankly just a crazy, bitchy clotheshorse. There are glimmers of potential, but they’re quickly overshadowed by the fact that Cruella has no redeeming qualities besides being a slightly better person than The Baroness. There’s no real attempt to explore why Cruella is the way she is; she’s just bad—and this hardly warrants a spin-off film.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Emma Stone is horribly miscast as Estella/Cruella. Her English accent comes and goes, and her performance is all over the board. There is an assortment of English actresses more than capable of playing the role (Esme Creed-Miles comes to mind), but Stone is used for her star power to get warm bodies in the theatre. Thompson shines as The Baroness, and the supporting cast, including Joel Fry (Jasper), Paul Walter Hauser (Horace), and John McCrea (Artie) more than makes up for Stone being absolutely wrong for the role.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
While everyone is drab, Cruella stands out in bold pops of color (usually red) as she navigates the world of 1970s London fashion. Gone are the real-life days of bright jumpsuits and tight bell bottoms in favor of every woman considering mustard the boldest color option in their wardrobe but usually opting for brown, tan, black, or grey. It’s easy to see the aesthetic the designers were going for, allowing Cruella to stand out in a drab world, but it feels like “good cowboy white, bad cowboy black.” This extends to the makeup as well. Estella is decked out in neutrals while Cruella gets the bold smokey eye and red lipstick, creating characterizations that are boring and tropey.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The music and score are fitting, but they certainly don’t stand out. Personally, I would have liked to see some disco hits like “Staying Alive” and “Disco Inferno” to set the mood. There are some hits, including Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking,” but they don’t always pack a punch like great music incorporated well does.
I went in with low expectations, and Cruella didn’t even meet those. The film had potential (although the villain origin story is getting a little stale), but it’s so miscast with spotty writing that it simply falls flat. If Disney had gone edgier, it may have been saved, but it’s a stagnant entry into a genre that’s already overdone. Some people are just born bad, and this film was bad the moment it was conceived.
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