Warning: This review will contain spoilers for Cruella. Be advised.
For some reason, when the credits roll on Cruella, the original “Cruella de Vil” song by Bill Lee doesn’t play; instead, it’s a pop remix that’s full of girl power and kind of spins off of Madonna. It makes no earthly sense and it’s not very compelling, much like the movie that precedes it. The movie doesn’t seem to get why Cruella is such a baddie — she wants to skin puppies, which is horrifying, and that’s about it. Add in a miscast Emma Stone who’s miscast because she’s far too charismatic for such a…well, hag, and Emma Thompson as a villainous type she’s played too many times before, and you get a movie which should’ve stalled before it even hit production.
There are some twists and turns here — Cruella’s true parentage is revealed, and it’s about what you’d expect — but we never needed to know where Cruella came from, or how she met up with her two henchmen, or if she knew Anita (Kirkby Howell-Baptiste) and Roger (Kayvan Novak) prior to the start of the original 101 Dalmatians. Not to mention that Cruella’s horrid treatment of dogs apparently comes from a place of fear and trauma; it’s not spoiling too much to reveal that Emma Thompson’s dalmatians are the ones who kill off Cruella’s mother figure almost immediately. Still, Cruella keeps her own dogs, who she loves, which is just…weird.
This isn’t the Cruella of the original animated movie; instead, it’s a part-heist, part-origin story movie that tries to make the unsympathetic sympathetic. The movie is a loud, garish thing — most of the fashion in it feels ripped off from The Hunger Games — Cruella even has a cape which ignites to reveal something much more fabulous underneath it. Very Katniss Everdeen. Cruella, though, was probably doomed to fail, because it’s so bombastic and ridiculous that it feels more like a series of music videos than a film.
Emma Thompson as the Baroness and Andrew Leung as Jeffrey in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo by Laurie Sparham. Copyright 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
And there’s a lot of music in this film, which gives it a “we’re trying very hard to be cool” vibe. The music is good, with a lot of 60s and 70s rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s placed in scenes where it really has no place other than to pump up boring or cliché things that unfold on screen. Speaking of cliché, there are some lines that are simply unforgivable: “I’m not like her…I’m better” and “I was finally where I belonged” stand out.
On top of that, there’s a completely annoying assertion that genetics implies evil; because Cruella’s mother is evil, that means she has to be evil because that’s how that works.
That is, of course, not how it works, but seeing as how Cruella is one in a long line of prequels about villains/anti-heroes — next on the docket is, apparently, a Willy Wonka origin story starring Timothée Chalamet. Do we need to know who these characters were before they lept onto the screen back in the last century? Not really. It’s unclear who these movies are for, really: those nostalgic for the films of their childhood likely won’t care, and you kind of have to see the original to enjoy these sort of films.
Cruella is bad to the bone, and that’s not a compliment. It’s really not worth the extra charge of Disney+ Premier Access unless you desperately need to know exactly how the most infamous dalmatian killer became who she was in the original, much better, animated film.
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CRUELLA will drive you crazy, but hopefully not as crazy as its heroine.
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