Coming to Disney+ on May 26th is Cruella, the revised origin story of a character who is possibly the truest villain in the Disney canon. I am of course talking about Cruella De Vil, the vile villainous who wanted to skin 101 dalmatian puppies. So can Disney find some way to redeem the irredeemable? Well, they’re going to try. They’re going to try so god damn hard.
Set in1970s London, Cruella follows Estella (Emma Stone). Estella is part of a gang that makes their earnings stealing with the help of their trusty animal companions, Buddy and Wink. She has higher aspirations though. She dreams of becoming a fashionista. On her birthday, she gets a job in the designer department store Liberty London. Unfortunately, she is a cleaner and her ideas fall on deaf ears. That is until one day she takes her destiny into her own hands and fixes a store window.
Her incredible skills catch the eye of a fashion icon, the Baronness (Emma Thompson). The Baronness hires her so that she may use Estella’s skills. What follows is a story that will change Estella forever, as she learns more about the Baronness as well as her own past she will have to become someone else, something else.
Something cruel this way comes
Cruella is without a doubt one of the most poorly executed “reimaginings” of a classic Disney character I’ve seen. The choices made from a technical point of view to the storytelling are so inorganic that I never felt a semblance of empathy for Estella/Cruella. I say this because Emma Stone basically plays two separate characters. Estella is a down on her luck orphan ala Oliver Twist.
She has survived a decade of being an orphan thanks to her partners in crime Jasper (Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) as well as her dog Buddy. When Stone is playing Estella she gives a decent performance of someone trying their best to live their dream. She is a tad eccentric but she has charm. This is especially true in the first act of the film when she is pulling crimes with Jasper and Horace in tow. The trio also has a wonderful rapport. This is compounded by the two dogs that join them, especially Wink who is easily the MVP of this film. Unfortunately when revelations are revealed about the Baronness Estella literally transforms into Cruella overnight. From this moment on if there is scenery in the room Emma Stone is gobbling it up and not in a good way.
Stone is a panto villain while portraying Cruella. The major difference is that the quality of her costumes is far superior. She completely changes her character to more resemble the Disney villain. For no reason at all, she decides that to defeat the Baronness she also needs to be cruel to everyone around her. Her companions are treated more like toadies for the rest of the film. The rationalisation for this is poorly explained and as the story delves further into her revenge story the stakes become less interesting and ridiculous. Thompson doesn’t give a particularly memorable performance. She tries to emulate the figure that was made iconic by Meryl Streep 15 years ago in The Devil Wears Prada, sadly the Baronness is a poor imitation.
I’m just getting started darling
Outside the characters, the technical aspects of Cruella are up and down. The film looks gorgeous. From the 1970s aesthetic to the outfits the characters wear there is a lot of eye candy here. Stone can be seen wearing 47 different outfits and they are all stunning. When you have an Oscar and BAFTA-winning costume designer like Jenny Beavan on hand you can’t go wrong. Many will recognise her work from films such as The Nutcracker and the Four Realms and Mad Max: Fury Road.
However, the visuals are undermined often when the visual effects are criminally woeful. There are several times throughout the film where there are dogs onscreen and they are clearly CGI. There are three dalmatians in the film and for the majority of the film they are CGI and it is terrible. Some of the worst visual effects happen at the beginning of the film and the end of the film and they involve a cliff. One particular example I can give involves a dalmatian stretching in front of Cruella. This scene is supposed to show the beginnings of her obsession. The visual choice director Craig Gillespie went with was a completely CGI dalmatian. And there is an uncanny valley that just doesn’t communicate the beauty of this dog.
The music of the film is a who’s who of talent that Disney thought would perfectly encapsulate the era. Unfortunately, a side effect of this is that if any child listens to the lyrics there will be several awkward conversations in households around the world. The score is nothing special, it’s quite incidental. There is nothing memorable within the score. The soundtrack of the film does all the heavy lifting for the score.
The decisions that went into making Cruella did not work for me. At best this film could have had an interesting story and character that didn’t need the name. Instead, this film is brimming with clichés, terrible writing, at times dire CGI and fabulous fashion.
Stay tuned to Scannain for more news, reviews and interviews.