Disney’s latest live action adaptation of a colorful villain takes on the always iconic Cruella de Vil in her origin story by her name, Cruella.
The film follows a young Cruella/Estella (sort of a Cinderella/Ella situation) trying to make her way in the world following a tragedy in her youth. She is joined by familiar faces from 101 Dalmations, Horace and Jasper as well as Anita Darling and Rodger. Does the film live up to the color of the original villain? The Conservative Critic set out to find out by asking: Is it Entertaining? Does it have artistic/intellectual value? And finally, Is it Liberal Propaganda?
The Conservative Critic, Cruella, Meter Check:
Overall Rating: Not Good
It really is not good, particularly for a child or young person. The biggest crime Cruella commits isn’t against a cute puppy but is to be extremely boring. When making their live action villain stories, so far Disney has created a rich world which incorporates a lot of the original story – in the very successful Maleficent franchise, the story centers around Maleficent’s point of view in a story the viewer is already familiar with. In a way it acts more as a live action Sleeping Beauty than it does a villain origins story. In the original live action 101 Dalmatians featuring the unmatchable performance of Cruella de Ville by Glenn Close, the formula was similar and it worked.
In Cruella, Disney dared to take on a full back story behind a character who is so unhinged the viewer does tend to wonder: what happened to her? Unfortunately the potential for a tale of madness and descent into rage and violence does not unfold and what could have been a deliciously cooky anti-hero uprising was watered down into some starchy tasteless combination of the Devil Wears Prada and Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events.
I more than anyone want people to go back to the theater – we must save films on the big screen! However, this is not the one to drag yourself out of the house for. Especially not for your poor kids who would be so bored.
Is it Entertaining?
Rating: It really really isn’t
The level of hubris it must have taken over at Disney studios for someone to pitch a character dramedy about a cartoon villain from a puppy dog movie (which has already been made very well and to much success in the early millennium) at a run time of two hours and fourteen minutes is beyond my comprehension. If there is one thing I value above all, as my readers know by now, its restraint.
The movie just takes forever. Disney billed this movie as Cruella centric fun with crazy hair and fun fashion but what the viewer gets primarily is a mousy Estella (Cruella’s true name and alter ego) played by Emma Stone in a very ugly and bad maroonish red wig and glasses. The fun of the first hour of the film is few and far between with tiny jokes in a sea of context creation the viewer just simply does not need. When we finally get fabulous Cruella the movie feels almost over and yet it persists to last another full hour plus. It repeats itself many times, it has a very obvious “twist” which I swear even a child will know immediately. Its CGI dogs are actually not as fun as real dogs (movie makes do know that real dogs exist right? Like these dogs do not talk you could have just put real dogs in the movie).
It just does not deliver an ounce of joy or even commit to delivering pain or rage or antics. It fails to commit to any feeling and so it delivers none at all. It was painful to watch and I would not recommend it whatsoever.
Does it have intellectual/artistic value?
Rating: Yes and No
A lot of the imagery in the film was pleasant to behold. The art direction was genuinely superior to a lot of work and paid a thoughtful homage to the 1970s London art and fashion scene which was so iconic and famous to this day. Additionally the musical score was well thought and enjoyable throughout.
However, director, Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya, The Finest Hours) chose to combine the loud printed wallpaper and carpets of the 1970s with dizzying tracking shots all throughout the film in an effort (probably) to connect the viewer with the spiralling attitude of Estella as she turned into Cruella. This is not effective considering he never committed to the narrative of a downward spiral and instead just makes viewers dizzy and nauseated. Its a cheap filmmakers trick which seldom works and always tricks a now sick viewer into thinking “wow what a cool movie thing to do.”
It is clear the film believed itself to be a fashion love story. Fashion can be quite subjective however I thought most of Cruella’s work which is released with great fanfare is extreme derivative and not very current, unique or even shocking (despite the plot point being that it is shocking). Granted, the film took place in the 1970s and perhaps the decision by the fashion artists on the film was to use old fashion tropes of that time. That choice is a mistake because it makes the only interesting thing about movie, the clothes, not exceptionally interesting. The whole “oh the dress is made of newspapers and she has words on stuff” is very very done and reminded me a bit of a plot arch on Gossip Girl which is not a compliment.
The best fashion in the whole fashion centered movie was actually in the quieter Cruella moments when she was in simple black jackets and suits. They were all fabulous. But no one comes for the black jackets and suits.
Emma Stone and Emma Thompson play opposite one another with Stone as Cruella and Thompson as her rival/mentor the Baroness. Stone comes in way too subtly where Thompson takes it over the top. Most viewers love both actresses and have seen them at their highs and lows – this is not a high for either. Stone’s fake London accent is bad enough to gag on and had they made it a plot point that she was an American faking the accent it actually would have worked better than just allowing her to do it. Thompson’s not-quite-campy-but-not-quite-straight version of Meryl Streep’s, Miranda Priestly simply does not work.
The visuals of the movie do save it from being a complete trainwreck but only barely.
Is it liberal propaganda?
There was no agenda at all and I kind of wish there had been because I was so bored.
The biggest problem with Cruella is that it simply could and should have been so much bigger and brighter. The best scene in the whole film is when we get a little Cruella mad driving around the city. But its short lived and we don’t get the same sparkle again. In the original animated film, Cruella is filled with so much rage her eyes bug out with blood shot. She quite literally tries to murder a bunch of puppies out of revenge. In the live action adaptation of 101 Dalmatians, Glenn Close serves us the wildly unhinged version of Cruella we needed and deserved. This Cruella didn’t know if she was a hero or a villain and certainly didn’t have the charisma, creativity or inclination to first make enemies out of 100 tiny puppies and then actually lose to them in a final battle.
In the words of fashion icon, Andre Leon Tally: Dreckitude.