Cruella (2021)

"The thing is, I’m not sweet Estella, try as I might. I never was. I’m Cruella. Born brilliant. Born bad. And a little bit mad.”"The thing is, I’m not sweet Estella, try as I might. I never was. I’m Cruella. Born brilliant. Born bad. And a little bit mad.”

“The thing is, I’m not sweet Estella, try as I might. I never was. I’m Cruella. Born brilliant. Born bad. And a little bit mad.”

Cruella is but the next Disney villain to be adapted into a live action film. Of course, we can’t ignore the Glenn Close version or the 1961 animated version with which Cruella is based on, but this is a prequel. Certainly, it’s a movie that was made. Why it was made, I have no idea, since it’s announcement I’ve been scratching my head as to why an origin story about a fashion designer whose only goal is to skin dogs is absolutely necessary, something that will get people in the theaters, clamoring at how sleek and stylish it looks. And it is stylish, after all, it’s about fashion but don’t let the elaborate costumes and dazzling set designs fool you, Cruella is just not necessary.

Disney has been taking their animated IP and bringing them to live action. Some work more than others and some should have stayed in the vault. Look at the massive success of Aladdin and the hyper realistic yet still animated The Lion King. For whatever reason there may be, reintroducing a popular villain for a new generation is the route Disney wishes to venture down. There have been two Maleficent films, which from the word of mouth aren’t that enticing to pop on Disney Plus and watch them. So why should we spend the pricey $29.99 for the premiere access to watch at home or if youre comfortable enough mosey down to your local theater to see this villains’ origin story.

Therein lies the true conundrum circling Cruella. Screenwriters Dana Fox and Tony McNamara are certainly ambitious with their script creating a visually stunning film with Craig Gillespie’s direction. The problem lies within the fact that Estella (Emma Stone) is written to be sympathized with in her creation of her alter ego, her Jekyll & Hyde version Cruella. Cruella is a bad person who does bad things – she says it herself, so what is the purpose for feeling bad for her in her journey? What the anchor for this sympathy is, is the creation of an even more horrible narcissistic person, worse than Cruella in the Baroness (Emma Thompson). 

Both Cruella and Baroness seem to be playing a game on screen that no one other character is aware of, who can out horrible the other. Anything you can be, I can be worse, much worse. To even get to this point in the film, there’s roughly 45 minutes of the 134-minute runtime that are pure exposition that is taking its sweet time to get through. After that the intentions are made clear – Cruella is a revenge story with no intention to connect to 101 Dalmatians. There are feeble shoehorned attempts and an easter egg or two but where Cruella ends doesn’t narratively make any sense to where this character begins when we meet her in the original.  

The Glenn Close version of 101 Dalmatians paints Cruella as a dog hating psychopath where here she likes dogs; she and her two thief partners Jasper (Joel Fry) & Horace Badun (Paul Walter Hauser) have two dogs that assist in their burglaries. By the end of the film 3 Dalmatians are added and there is no contempt from Cruella. 

What’s ultimately puzzling with the screenplay stems from the connection to the original animated film and to Glenn Close film. In 101 Cruella is bad for bads sake. There’s zero explanation as to why she’s this evil monster and frankly the mystery behind her backstory makes her more of an interesting and digestible character.  Her type of evil doesn’t require all this backstory, if you watch 101 Dalmatians Cruella is evil, no amount of sympathy can soften those rough edges. Here, Cruella is made to be tolerable, someone we can root for who ultimately doesn’t deserve it. And yet all the bad she does gets a pass, it’s swept under the rug while those who keep law and order look the other way or are basically nonexistent and in Baroness’s pocket. The disguises Cruella create aren’t exactly the type to be full on camouflage and it’s not like the three of them exactly blend in. Even the Baroness who is the busiest person in London recognizes Horace.

Disney creates an extravagant world full of color, music and attitude. Every part of this retro, punk inspired world is a distraction from what’s framed on screen. The punk style is exploited as a means to sell Cruella as a product. It’s in poor taste to use a niche genre for profitable gain.

Aside from all that Cruella has some redeeming qualities, not many, but some. The Emma’s give outstandingly brilliant performances. Their timing together is next level chemistry, both pull their all into their cold-hearted characters. In fact, every performance is brilliant, I never knew I needed Paul Walter Hauser in all those costumes, but they went there and I’m all for it. Paul and Joel’s characters are the clear moral compass of the film, Cruella is too far gone to form any type of emotional connection too. Even they hate her, long before Cruella does anything too wicked.

I must ask how much the music budget in Cruella was. Every song is a literal classic ranging from the Beatles to The Doors to Queen to the Rolling Stones. The music is loud and, in your face, probably to distract you from how thin the plot was and the choices that were made in lieu of them. I wasn’t distracted and could see right through the smoke and mirrors. Even having Cruella singing along to ‘These Boots are Made for Walkin’ feels off. I thought this wasn’t a musical. 

Cruella is plagued by its necessity to be adapted yet the result gives great performances from top to bottom but that’s it. Disney’s attempt at a punk rock backdrop is more of a cheap trick thinking they can shove a genre of music and fashion down our throats, claiming it as their own movement that the character started because she’s a rebel who was born bad. If you look closely, Cruella is a flashy mess that has no right being as long as it is. How Baroness doesn’t realize Estella is Cruella is baffling – for how smart Baroness comes across she’s pretty oblivious.

Cruella is written by Dana Fox & Tony McNamara, directed by Craig Gillespie is Rated PG-13 and has an 74% on Rotten Tomatoes. Cruella was released on May 28, 2021 in the United States and has a runtime of 2 hours and 14 minutes. Cruella is currently in theaters and on Disney Plus with premiere access. 2 out of 5.

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