Film Review: Cruella (2021)

Also known as: Cruella de Vil (working title)
Release Date: May 18th, 2021 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Craig Gillespie
Written by: Dana Fox, Tony McNamara, Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel, Steve Zissis
Based on: The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith
Music by: Nicholas Britell
Cast: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Mark Strong, John McCrea

Gunn Films, Marc Platt Productions, Walt Disney Pictures, 134 Minutes

Review:

“They say there are five stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. We’ll I’d like to add one more… revenge.” – Cruella de Vil

Cruella is two movies trying to be one movie. Hell, maybe it’s even three movies.

That being said, I do like the film in spite of my better judgment but I’ll explain why while also pointing out the myriad of things wrong with it.

To start, this is just another soulless attempt at Disney trying to cash-in on an old, beloved franchise by making a live action adaptation of some part of it. In the case of this film, it’s a “prequel” of sorts to the 101 Dalmatians franchise. Like some other live action adaptations Disney has done, as of late, this tries to tell the origin story of one of the studio’s most famous villains. But really, this just shows how Disney is out of ideas and how it really keeps trying to inject identity politics into everything it touches now.

Additionally, this is basically trying to capitalize off of the success of 2019’s Joker by taking it’s general concept, switching genders, switching franchises, not going for an R rating and trying to pass it off as something fresh, cool and unique. Let’s also ignore that Warner Bros., who put out Joker, have also put out three movies with his psycho, villain, girlfriend Harley Quinn.

Also, this shows modern Disney’s problem with morality. In almost everything the studio puts out now, it gives audiences situations where it’s obvious that their writers don’t understand the basic concept of good versus evil. I’ve seen this in all the Disney+ Marvel shows and they also did it twice with Maleficent in her two live-action movies that try to justify her villainous behavior and make her the tragic victim.

Cruella is a mess and to be honest, I don’t know where to start with it and I’m not going to cover all of its problems other than to say that the biggest problem of all is that Disney very clearly wanted this to be a “girl power” movie and wanted it to work no matter what, so they forced it into existence without much thought in regards to story, character development, logic and again, morality.

So looking at the story, this movie just does things because it needs the story to work with the studio’s agenda remaining intact. It insults the intelligence of viewers with intelligence and hopes that they don’t start asking questions as the film tries to rush from point-to-point.

Like why does Estella/Cruella essentially have a dual personality? Why did the villain lady agree to see Estella’s mother during an opulent ball the poor mother had no business at? How did Estella get to the fountain in London on her own? Why is Estella as Cruella suddenly a complete bitch to her best friends? Why do the friends stick around? Why does villain lady not recognize Cruella’s posse when they’re front and center at every fucking public troll? Why did Cruella never actually hate the Dalmatians and basically adopts them? Why was her necklace a key to a box that revealed her secret identity that a stranger had and why was the adoptive mother given the secret key necklace when she knew the truth, anyway? There’s a lot more but I’ll leave it at that.

A lot of those questions tie directly to the problem with character development. But honestly, it’s like this movie completely ignores who Cruella de Vil was in the original animated films and even those Glenn Close live-action movies. Cruella is 100 percent evil. She’s a woman that wants to kidnap puppies, kill them and make clothes out of them.

In this movie, we just have a chick with a temper that discovers that the boss she idolizes is the same woman that had her dogs push her mother off of a cliff. Cruella never hates the dogs, though. She kidnaps them to upset her rival and she jokes about making a handbag out of them but by the end of the film, they’re part of her entourage like her own non-Dalmatian mutt.

Now I can suspend disbelief in Estella/Cruella having a dual personality without much explanation but Estella is a pretty kind person that loves her friends, who are essentially her adoptive family. So with that, it’s hard to believe that she would suddenly be a cold bitch to them and just treat them like low level henchmen. Additionally, why the fuck would these two guys, who grew up with her, take her shit? I’d ask if they’re that cucked but I know the answer is “yes” when this is a modern Disney movie.

Moving on to the logic problem, I’ve already kind of hit on that point with the other issues but it is a problem for this film when a viewer isn’t the type of person to just take what’s being spoon-fed to them from sequence-to-sequence. This movie moves at a pace too quick for the casual viewer to really think too deeply about the details and that’s deliberate. It’s similar to how the Disney Star Wars movies are, in that they just quickly move from one thing to the next thing without allowing you to take in the details and ask questions. Again, Disney just needs the story to work to make their point, even if it’s not logical and a bit of a mess.

As far as morality goes, this wants you to cheer this woman, who is doing bad things because the story’s villain is worse. But what you really have is two villains. Still, Disney doesn’t fully commit to the bit because in 2021, you can’t have this woman killing puppies or even implying as such, other than her throwaway joke that immediately draws the ire of her two best friends.

What we end up with is a character that shows the audience that it’s okay to be a vengeful, selfish bitch, as long as you don’t go completely bad. What completely bad is, I don’t know, but neither does Disney. And at the end of the film, you’re left with a character that still really isn’t Cruella de Vil, she’s just some stylish punk rock chick that destroyed her rival and took her empire because the story needed to end, I guess.

Now after all that, if you’re still here, you’re probably assuming that I hate this movie. Well, I don’t. I still liked it in spite of all its problems, which shows me that this could have been a great film on its own, apart from being tied to the 101 Dalmatians franchise and carrying Disney’s woke message.

Had this not been forcibly tied to the Cruella character and just been a movie about a woman who discovers her idol murdered her mother, we could’ve had a really good movie about two feuding fashion industry rivals.

Emma Stone and Emma Thompson are absolutely superb in this and without them, this movie probably would’ve been total shit. But damn are they good, especially in the scenes they’re in together. Additionally, all the other key actors are great and it kind of makes me sad that they didn’t have a script or story that could’ve maximized their talents even better.

I also loved the style of this movie. It primarily takes place in 1970s London, has a punk rock edge to it, but it also takes from 1920s-1940s fashion and architecture, mixes that in, giving the film an unique, somewhat otherworldly, but “lived in” feel. It’s a visual feast and I got lost trying to absorb the details of it all.

In the end, I wish this was just it’s own movie, not tied to a preexisting franchise. I wish it tried to make more logical sense and developed its characters better. It had all these things working for it but Disney’s soulless overproduction of everything it puts out derailed what could’ve been the best film they’ve produced in years.

At this point, though, Disney doesn’t care about quality. They only care about their agenda and the bottom line. But we’re now getting to the point where their agenda will start diminishing that bottom line, regardless of what the Disney owned media wants you to believe with their puff pieces and excuses.

Rating: 6.5/10