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Cruella

****
2021

‘…more of a drama than an adventure, it’s a strong and original film from the Disney brand…’

What would have been a Christmas release in 2020 now gets abruptly re-programmed as a early summer blockbuster from Disney; this prequel to the live-action 101 Dalmatians film is a very different breed to the Glenn Close starrers. In the way that Joker revised our view of Batman’s nemesis, Cruella is the back-story of Cruella DeVil, as featured in Dodie Smith’s original 1956 novel and several films since. Now a sympathetic character rather than a villainess, Craig Gillespie’s film doesn’t quite mesh with what we know of Cruella, and fudges a few key points, but it’s still a plush, prestige Disney product that has a fun, original angle.

The black and white hair, the piercing eyes; Cruella DeVil is such a bizarre-looking creation that any number of actresses could have played the part; Emma Stone might seem rather too wholesome for the role, but a committed performance washes away any doubts. Stone plays Estella, a young girl who seeks revenge for the mistreatment and death of her mother (Emily Beecham) at the gloved hands of fashion impresario The Baroness (Emma Thompson). Estella gets a job working for the Baroness, but soon their rivalry spills out into open hostility, and a second cliff-top showdown is on the cards….

Gillespie made something striking from the life-story of Tonya Harding and her mother, and manages to work the same magic here; this is a colossal bitch-fest and surprisingly off brand for Disney. While cigarettes remain unlit, we see Cruella get smashed on booze in the window displays of a London store; any questions of imitable behaviour for children are left redundant when Cruella later crashes a van through the public area of the police headquarters. Stone and Thompson seem to relish their roles, the costumes are sensational, and the music choices are generally fresh, although using The Clash to signify London went out in the 90’s.

Cruella is a far better constructed film than Joker, but lacks the slapstick that might have commended it to general family audiences. More of a drama than an adventure, it’s a strong and original film from the Disney brand, and shows that the girls involved want to do more than just have fun. If nothing else, producers deserve a large gold watch for identifying Liberty’s of London as a likely place for Cruella to inhabit, and the inspired casting of Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser as henchmen Jasper and Horace, a perfect match for their animated predecessors.

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  1. I Think Emily Beecham would be good choice for Clea In Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

    • Good shout; first saw her in a indie film called Daphne, and not surprised that she’s gone on to big things…

  2. So because for some reason a Dalmatian killed her mother in the past, that justify her trying skin 101 puppy… I do agreee the actors are doing a good job in here, but the plot are terrible.

    • Agreed; despite lots of playing around with the idea, this Cruella doesn’t match up with the one we know. No reason to blame the dogs anyway. It feels like they had a darker version and thought it wouldn’t work for kids.

  3. It’s good you’re actually so familiar with the tale. I’d be mostly lost, having never really studied the Dalmations film. I actually kind of enjoy this road of taking up the back story for the antagonists, after all people aren’t just born evil, they’re (as far as we know) painstakingly created! And those painful creations are worth a look so that perhaps we could actually end sociopathic tendencies. But then, what will our struggles be against in films? Could we foresee an era of movies that aren’t as rigid in form? I was enjoying the two seasons of Nick Frost in Hyperdrive – in one episode the captain trying to talk down each of the dangerous opponents being unleashed on him, while his second in command surprise pummeled them to death for great laughs.
    Since the original Cruella is by all accounts a wicked witch, it serves well to examine that trope and unleash iconoclast.

    • Cruella is a wicked witch, as I remember, and no friend to animals. That works for a vilianous, secondary role, but can a Disney film work if the central character and point of identification is an animal-liller? That’s what gets fudged in Cruella, and the suggestion that Emma Stone might kill and skin some dalmatians is mooted rather than executed here. It would be a big plus if we say more innovative films as a result of this trend, so I’m going with your positivity here!

  4. I’ve heard mixed reviews about this one. Do you think it’s better than Joker? Because that was a film I really enjoyed. Stone is decent, I liked her in La La Land… maybe I’ll check this out.

    • Thanks! I’ve seen them live three times, and it’s always been a positive experience. But I do find Kid A a hard listen….

  5. I like Stone as Gwen Stacy in Amazing Spiderman 2 but looking at her filmography on imdb, I don’t think I’ve seen any of the other movies she’s starred in.

    Do you think that Disney is going to continue this trend of telling the badguy’s story and cast them as goodguys in some sort of way?

    • Stone is good, La la land is something of a showcase for her.

      The way you describe is is exactly right re Disney, and I think it’ll be problematic moving forward. In Maleficent, the story allows for another side, and that’s fine. But the problem with Young Cruella is that we’re seeing the early years of a monster, and no hero or heroine should have those characteristics. This particular film (Cruella) tries to solve things put putting her up against something far more deadly and dangerous than her, but the morality gets a little messy at points.

      • I’m just wondering what Disney villain will get this treatment next. Maybe Madame Medusa from the Rescuers?

        I just don’t understand WHY this is being done.

        • Established, beloved IP. If you’re going to spend $300 million, you might as well highlight a character people already know….

          Sadly, I’m not sure The Rescuers has made the same impact on culture as it has on us…

          • Once again, the world is out of lockstep with us.
            Oh well, I leave them to wallow in their film pits of mediocrity…
            (says the man who’s about to go binge watch the tv show The Mentalist. * eye roll *)

  6. I am so glad you liked this film! I saw it this past weekend…it was first time in a movie theater since 2019, so I was a festive mood and primed to love anything I saw and I really enjoyed this one. I have no particular affinity for Cruella but I love Emma Stone. I thought this was the best ever made in the Disney live action remakes (although I haven’t seen them all). A good time and the perfect welcome back to the big screen!

    • I wasn’t sure what I would think of this, can’t say the live-action Cinderella worked for me. But festive is a good word for this, it felt like a splashy, Xmas season movie, with all the mad production design you could ask for. I did feel they fudged Cruella’s intentions towards dogs, but the look and feel of the film were just right, and it was fun watching Cruella’s character develop; Stone did a great job. Good to have cinemas functioning again! Welcome back!

      • Yes, does it make me a monster that I kind of wanted her to kill the dogs?! For a moment I thought she would, and the writers gave her as good a reason as anyone could get to do it. Cinderella was good for me, but I was really disappointed by Beauty and the Beast. Not sure why, probably just because I had such reverence for Belle growing up, nothing could live up to my expectations!

        • I thought she would as well, and my guess is that details like this were softened to make for an easier watch, but making for a Cruella who just isn’t as cruel as might have been expected.

          Much prefer the cartoon of Beauty and the Beast, the film is worse in pretty much every way. Getting Emma Watson to play the role of Belle rather than you was the final straw for me; the answer was right there all along!

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