‘Cruella’ movie review

David Eckstein-Schoemann, Reporter

Featured Image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

I’m not gonna lie, my thoughts on the Disney live action remakes are mixed at best. Mainly because most of them either repeat the same story again, or make story choices that bring down what are already good narratives. So when they announced that Cruella was getting her own movie, I was worried it was gonna be “Maleficent” all over again. In that I thought they were taking one of Disney’s greatest villains and making them another sympathetic case of misunderstanding, which isn’t what people want. They want to see the villains be the villains. How does this film turn out? Let’s take a look and see.

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

The movie centers on Estella, an unordinary girl with a talent for fashion design who is orphaned after the tragic death of her mother. On her own, she befriends two street thieves named Jasper and Horace, who take her in and include her in their schemes. Years later, Estella’s talents eventually catch the attention of the Baroness, the most prestigious fashion designer in London who hires Estella into her business. Estella eventually discovers that the Baroness had a hand in her tragic past and decides to wage a fashion war against her rival, upstaging her events and taking her publicity under the guise of “Cruella.” 

Based on the trailers and advertising of this film I wasn’t sure how it was gonna turn out. Thankfully I am happy to report that this movie for all it’s elements and story choices really works. While there are a few things that don’t quite add up, I am amazed at how well this movie did. It’s funny because this film starts out like a typical disney remake with the main character being born with black and white hair, and even has a scene where dalmations are growling at her. While that is true, the movie picks up speed significantly as it goes along. It’s to a point where it doesn’t even feel like a Disney film most of the time, which is very rare for me. I think a lot of that comes from the direction. You can tell that director Craig Gillespie, who made films like “I, Tonya” wanted to do something stylized and entertaining with this film. He gives it a unique feel and energy that makes me come out and say, “Wow, who would’ve thought a movie about Cruella de Vil would actually be cool!”

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

The cast in this film is one of the best lineups I’ve seen in a while, at least in live action adaptations. Emma Stone is one of my favorite actresses in the industry and she is phenomenal here. I like how she makes the role of her own while still keeping faithful to the original character. While they do give her a sympathetic backstory, they make the smart decision not to make her a good guy like in “Maleficent.” They instead have her play out as sort of an anti-villain, which is surprising because they don’t harm any dogs in this film. In fact with all the dogs these characters work with, this movie actually feels like it’s pro-dogs. This might turn away some people but they manage to find that good in between relatable and mean spirited. The rest of the cast is also great. I miss films where the supporting cast is given as much personality and screen time as the main character. Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser as Jasper and Horace are both really fun and entertaining whenever they’re on screen. Other actors such as John McCrea and Mark Strong also stand out here, but the one who owns every scene is Emma Thompson as the Baroness. She’s one of the best Disney villains in a long while. She’s charismatic, she’s ruthless, she does so many horrible things and yet you find yourself enjoying this character. I keep telling people this, but both Emmas in this film knock it out of the park.

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Another aspect of the film that I want to give props to is the style and feel throughout. I was pleasantly impressed with how well the film looked with its cinematography and costume designs. I’m not a big fashion person, but holy cow! With all the hard work in the costume department because a lot of these designs are just unbelievable. I especially love the rivalry scenes between Cruella and the Baroness as they lead to a lot of cool scenes, scored by an awesome 70s soundtrack. I was actually impressed with the song choices made here because they fit so well here. The montages here are so creative and inventive that they make me want to see it on the big screen again.

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

I especially love the mean spirited tone throughout the film as it gives a mean spirited edge that’s not seen in modern Disney films. I don’t mean just having a main character who does naughty things, there are some dark elements in this film. There are people who die here, and a considerable amount of implied violence. Which makes sense as it’s a film on the origin of one of Disney’s biggest villains. I point this out because whenever they do a live action remake centering on a female lead, it’s usually the same moral of “be yourself” or “don’t let anyone put you down,” which is fine but I feel like people want something different, and dare I say interesting every once in a while. To this film’s credit it deviates from the standard norm and gives us elements that people weren’t expecting. For example, there is a twist towards the end that connects the main lead to the antagonist. While I should have seen something like that coming, it did catch me by surprise so it succeeds on that front.

As much as I enjoyed the film, there are a few things that pop up that remind me I’m watching a Disney remake. I feel like the director was making this really cool and entertaining film, but still had to keep to a checklist of easter eggs and tie-ins to the original film. Like how Cruella got her last name “de Vil” from the car, or having dalmatians not like her are obvious winks to the audience. They’re not too distracting, but I feel this film stands at its best when it did its own thing without keeping to the original animated film. Without giving anything away, there’s a mid credits scene that makes clear they’re tying this back to the original. While they do set it up with some of the background characters being revealed to be main characters of the animated movie, Cruella’s actions that lead into it don’t make sense since we know what she’s gonna do in the future. 

The best way I can describe it is if a character like Frollo had an origin movie where he ends kinda like a good person, but in a mid credits scene is already hunting gypsies and throwing babies down wells. It feels out of nowhere, and honestly doesn’t connect with the rest of the film. The mid credits scene here didn’t throw me off too much, but it did make me raise my eyebrow questioning how this scene makes sense in context to the animated film.

Courtesy of David Eckstein-Schoemann

With that said, I think “Cruella” is a breath of fresh air in Disney’s line up of live action remakes. Sure it’s strange and odd, but considering the blandness of the other live action remakes I’m praying for something more strange and odd. Hopefully, this movie will strike a chord with people and we’ll get more films like this in the future. Grab your fur coat and see for yourself.

Rating: 4 / 5 Spinnaker Sails.


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