2021, PG-13, 135 mins.
Emma Stone as Cruella de Vil / Estella / Emma Thompson as Baroness von Hellman / Mark Strong as Boris / Joel Fry as Jasper / Paul Walter Hauser as Horace / Emily Beecham as Catherine / Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Anita / Jamie Demetriou as Gerald / John McCrea as Artie / Abraham Popoola as GeorgeDirected by Craig Gillespie / Written by Dana Fox and Tony McNamara, based on the book THE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIANS by Dodie Smith
I was struck with three overwhelming
thoughts while watching
production/set/costume design of this film is sensational.
2. This film
rarely, if ever, makes a compelling case study that this titular character
- first seeing the light of day in Disney's own 1961 animated classic 101 DALMATIANS
- requires a live action origin story at all.
This film is a tremendous waste of director Craig Gillespie's
sizeable talent, who previously made two of the best films of their
respective years in LARS AND THE
REAL GIRL and I, TONYA.
He also made the terribly underrated Disney produced maritime
thriller in THE FINEST HOURS as
well as, for my money, the finest remake of recent memory in FRIGHT
course, is named after Cruella de Vil, the famous antagonist from Dodie
Smith's 1956 novel THE HUNDRED AND ONE DAMNATIONS that was made even more
famous with her appearance in the aforementioned animated feature.
I can certainly understand the motive for the House of Mouse wanting
to repeatedly go back to the creative well with CRUELLA, seeing as they've
made a concentrated - and in my opinion highly redundant - effort of
retooling their classic animated film catalogue into live action
iterations (actually, many seem to forget the 1996 Glenn Glose starring
adaptation). I will say, on a
positive, that CRUELLA is not a slavish shot-for-shot remake ala, say, THE
LION KING, mostly because it tries to dive into the character's
backstory set over multiple time periods in history. So, in some respects, CRUELLA isn't simply rehashing what has
come before. That, and the
film looks staggeringly good, replete with dazzling costumes from two time
Oscar winner Jenny Beaven, and she'll most likely get nominated again for
her work here. Beyond surface
pleasures, though, CRUELLA is an unendingly long winded and hollow
production that struggles to justify its existence and, as a result, comes
off as another in a long line of recent cynical minded Disney cash grab
CRUELLA is also
not entirely clever in its execution...at least not as much as it thinks.
The DNA of MALEFICENT,
for example, can be seen from a proverbial mile away here, another live
action Disney adaptation of an animated film that also took one of the
most iconic villains in their canon and retooled her as a misunderstood
victim versus a thoroughly loathsome baddie (yeah...a lot more on that in
a bit). CRUELLA takes its
inspiration by studying that film's blueprint, and in its case goes
aggressively out of its way to soften the Cruella de Vil character that
was so abundantly cruel in past incarnations, making her someone to relate
to and potentially root on as an anti-hero.
The film opens in the mid-60s with the young Cruella-to-be in
Estella (Emma Stone), who lives with her struggling mother that tries as
she can to make it as an up-and-coming fashion designer.
After a brutal accident that took her momma's life (that she blames
on a pack of guard Dalmatians), Emma takes to a life on the streets to
fend for herself and is eventually befriended by a pair of petty thieves
in Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), and over the next
several years they become a powerhouse grifting team.
It's also during
this time when Estella's full love of fashion begins to blossom, and after
winning over one of the top designers in Europe, the Baroness (Emma
Thompson), with her skills, the street hustler is allowed to join her
clothing empire. Once on the
inside, however, Estella learns - in a pure THE
DEVIL WEARS PRADA fashion - that the Baroness is a
vindictive social monster that will step on anyone and anything to be on
top. Plus, the Baroness takes
great relish in taking full credit for other people's work, which angers
Estella to no end. She
eventually decides to plot a long con game of vengeful comeuppance against
her boss, donning the moniker of Cruella and engaging in a guerrilla-like
publicity war against the Baroness using avant garde fashion as her
primary weapons. Cruella
simply wants to hurt and humiliate the Baroness at all costs and become
the top fashionista dog of 1970s London.
Of the few things
I admired in CRUELLA the chief among them is, as mentioned, the visual
tapestry. This is an
absorbingly stylish period picture that really has fun tapping into the
grunge underground roots of its decade in question.
If you want to see two Academy Award winning actresses go
toe-to-toe while wearing opulent eye candy apparel then CRUELLA will
certainly wet your appetitive for such pleasures.
Costume designer Beaven, art director Martin Foley, and production
designer Fiona Crombie ensure that every penny of this film's budget
(reportedly to be as high as $150-plus million!) is on screen for all to
see. As a pure imagery
showcase reel, CRUELLA is routinely on point.
That, and the film deserves props for trying to have a bit more raw
edge and nerve than the relative slew of other family friendly Disney
remakes. This film traverses
down some dark psychological territory, and some of the unpleasant
nastiness on display helps to separate itself apart from the pack.
But, wow, CRUELLA
commits so many unpardonable sins along the way that are hard to overlook,
which frankly started to take me out of the film very early on.
This is an extremely slow moving story right out of the gate, and
it takes nearly an hour before Estella's odd coming of age arc starts to
gain serious momentum. The
tonal zones that the makers are trying to homogenize here are also
chaotically all over the map. Sometimes,
CRUELLA wants to be macabre, whereas at other moments it yearns to embrace
camp and is overplayed to the point of - pardon the expression - cartoony
extremes. This is a film that's just unsure of itself and with no
cohesive game plan of attack. One
truly annoying thing that Gillespie insists on as well is a non-stop
barrage of soundtrack tunes from the eras in question being constantly
blasted in the background. I
don't have a problem with this jukebox approach in general, but it's done
to distracting overkill levels here.
It's just so lethargically lathered in, almost as if Gillespie and
company think that these classic songs will compliment and amplify the
mood of individual scenes. Instead, this choice becomes more tedious by the minute and
shows the fundamental lack of imagination on display.
negative elephant in the room here is Cruella herself.
Was there any burning desire to see this legendary evildoer brought
to life again in live action form and - sigh - be re-branded
as a troubled, but sympathetic heroine?
Cruella was so indefensibly twisted in the original animated film
(she had a lustful appetite to kill doggies, for crying out loud), so how
could any film make her compellingly sympathetic?
What vital revelations could see the light of day to allow for such
an incredulous character transformation?
The most basic of answers that CRUELLA provides are (a) her mommy
was killed by dalmatians (or, was she???) and (b) her boss was a
despicable power hungry bitch. Like...that's
it. Cruella is easily one
of the most memorable and dastardly villains in cinematic history, but in
CRUELLA she becomes a folk hero of the people that wants to point out who
are the real villains of the world. Huh?
I can certainly understand Estella wanting to don a new persona and
punish The Baroness, a very bad person in her own right.
But I simply never became immersed in this clash between the pair,
mostly because there's very little depth or complexity to the relationship
of these characters. There
were ample opportunities for the film to tackle Cruella's insatiable
appetite for material consumer goods while on her revenge plan, but
CRUELLA is not up to the task of such thorny critiques.
In the most crude form, Cruella is a spunky outsider that this film
wants us to think is hip, trendy, and cool.
How this person becomes the Cruella de Vil that we have come to
know and hate is simply beyond me.