Cruella (MOVIE REVIEW)
Runtime: 134 Minutes
Director: Craig Gillespie
Cast: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser
Over the last ten years, it’s been admittedly quite difficult to get excited over many new Disney movies. Not necessarily because what comes out of the House of Mouse nowadays is inherently bad nowadays, but because of the studio’s obnoxious approach to remakes. With bountiful attempts being made at adapting their animated classics into live action trainwrecks, it’s that reason why it’s been hard to get excited for these movies anymore. This is where Cruella comes in. Coming this time around from I, Tonya director, Craig Gillespie who’s already known for making films about trying to humanise horrible people, this movie gave the impression it was going to do something new. Instead of being directly paralleled to the films that Walt made in times of old, this film goes for a more inventive approach with using 101 Dalmatians more as the backdrop for an origin story about one of Disney’s most eccentric and despicable villains. But while the film is still far from great as par for the course with Disney’s live action catalogue, this film has so much of a unique sense of style and flair that it makes for quite the unexpected surprise at times. There’s quite a bit to like here and it’s almost guaranteed that it will strike a chord with some Disney fanatics who desire something a bit more mature.
Unlike the original animated film, Cruella is set in the 1970s during the Punk Rock Movement where we are introduced to Estella. She’s a young girl who is quite rebellious, and later as an adult enters a life of crime following a personal tragedy. When she gets discovered by Baroness von Hellman, a renowned but very egotistical designer for her unique fashion design, she gets recruited and becomes closer to her. Over time it begins a series of events that lead to betrayal, revenge and a dark path set in place that will ultimately turn her into the villainous icon, Cruella de Vil.
Cruella’s biggest task that it needed to get right from the outset was how to establish Estella as a character and how she feasibly becomes the disgusting villain we know her as today in pop culture. As the film begins from her origins as a kid to her life as an adult living with criminal cronies, Jasper and Horace, the film provides a fairly enticing introduction that helps the audience to get to know her based on past trauma and current events that would shape her transformation into Cruella de Vil. But while the film has a fairly strong first half which also gets us roped into Emma Thompson’s ego fuelled Hellman, and how her role contributed to Estella’s transformation, the film’s weird approach to making us sympathise with the lead character derails the story a lot as it leads to a much more bombastic third act. Cruella de Vil, like many villains, is a character that is meant to be as unlikeable as possible based on her background and what she does. She is a character that goes out of her way later on in life to skin puppies and use them as part of her fur coats. There are plenty of moments in the film that do give perfectly justifiable reasons why Estella would become Cruella and go down a dark path mostly because of Baroness von Hellman, but when the film makes out many of these moments as though they are an act of sympathy to root for her when a lot of what she does is fundamentally horrible, it feels disingenuous on the film’s part. It feels like Disney had a bit of a hand in this since their brand image is so built around being family friendly that even now when they are making something more for an adult audience, they know they can’t take things a bit further to show just how evil Estella has become. It’s more of a fault on the studio’s business practises that the film itself, but it’s something to definitely note especially as people start comparing this to Joker since that film took advantage of its adult tone to tell a subversive and dark villain origin story in a way Cruella simply couldn't because it's attached to an infamously family friendly studio.
But aside from the film’s massive issues in terms of Estella’s general characterisation, one area of the film that simply can’t be ignored is the look and the tone. The film is set in the 70s and it’s such a great, purposeful creative choice as it’s in an era where the Punk Rock Movement was around and it lends to the film's central theme of fashion. Whether it be the colourful costumes or the set design and even how the film just recreates a grungy 70s London, the film has a very rich and quirky look to it. It’s a style that very much fits into Estella’s character and how her passion for fashion (forgive the bad catchphrase) fits right in the visual aesthetic. The same can be said about the use of the cinematography, editing and the soundtrack. The film purposefully uses 1970s tracks and though it might seem intrusive to some with how excessively they use the licensed tracks, it fits in with the tone of the movie so well that it’s easy to forget they exist and just go along with the film’s rhythmic and fun pace.
The only time when Cruella’s pace falters immensely is with its length. The film runs at a long 134 minutes and while the first and second acts are very well put together and keep feeding bits and pieces of story to keep things flowing, the last 30 minutes are where the film begins to feel stretched out. There’s a very pivotal scene that happens toward the end following a fairly solid twist and in many ways, it felt like the perfect place to end it, since it cemented how far Estella has fallen and how she decides to fully embrace her Cruella persona. But the film just carries on as normal and ends with a climax that concludss more on a Marvel-esque cheering note rather than one of a depressing reality behind a villain’s troubled origin. In many ways with how the film displays its twists and turns along with its themes near the end, Cruella kind of feels like a film which could have been better if there were perhaps just more rewrites to the story. The ingredients are there, but not exactly 100% in the right place to make it work to its greatest potential.
Cruella is a flawed but solid enough attempt at trying to tell an origin story for one of Disney’s most iconic baddies. While the film in many ways kind of butchers some of Estella’s characterisation and doesn’t go quite as far as it should with it still being a PG-13 Disney movie, the film feels greatly less like a rehash but more of a genuine reinvention. Emma Stone is amazing in the role of Cruella de Vil and her contributions to this project shouldn’t go ignored. What’s here is a stylish, entertaining albeit messy and overlong romp that won’t change many minds about Disney’s approach to live action adaptations, but will certainly be seen with some level of respect. It’s cool to see Disney being a bit more audacious with this film and hopefully it might lead to them experimenting more with how they can tell new stories with their pre established IPs rather than just rehashing what has already worked before.
FINAL RATING:- 6/10 (DECENT)