You’re aware by this point that I am amongst the many people who are sick and tired of Disney shamelessly milking the cows out of their live action properties without any respect or regard to why their previous reincarnations worked so well in the first place. Needless to say, I never thought 101 Dalmatians was going to get that same treatment but alas, Cruella has arrived. Honestly here, the trailer for this movie gave me an immediate visceral reaction and I remember thinking to myself ‘Jesus, this is gonna be awful. This is not going to go over well with me’. So with my expectations set down as low as I could....I ended up walking out flabbergasted.
Not because I liked it but because I ALMOST DID. As the love-child cross-hybrid of Joker, The Devil Wears Prada and Maleficent, it almost got me: there is a solid, stylized, funny, wickedly dark and entertaining live-action Disney movie buried somewhere in this masquerade of makeup and Botox and for a good chunk of this movie, it actually bothers to unveil itself.
I will say this, both Emma Stone and Emma Thompson were electrifying in their respective roles, exceptionally gratifying with their presences as narcissistic, no-nonsense, bitchy persona’s and they play against each other and their fellow cast members with so much zest and life. There is some admittedly fun, if not witty dialogue thrown in here and the lack of balance between the silly comedy and the dramatic narrative somehow feels more natural than other Disney movies. Admittedly, it also packs a kick-ass soundtrack reminiscent of the 60’s/70’s punk rock era of London and an even more daunting musical score to boot, though the sheer amount of songs that it uses can be overwhelming in a lot of areas. Not only that but the costume design is actually astounding; sounds odd to say for a Disney movie but this period-piece aesthetic to the production design gives opportunities for the costuming team to really show it off. Not to mention the architecture is beautiful and it does a great job of showing off its visual marvels and transporting you to this particular time period, not just dropping you in and barely doing anything to justify it.
But similar to their other life action flicks, Disney just HAD to screw up, did they?
There’s no precarious balancing act here between the pacing and the runtime as it tends to go by too fast through some scenes and still finds a way to drag out for a while. Again, the constant spitting from the soundtrack were almost Suicide Squad levels of annoying despite my enjoyment in it, both the direction and style it provides ultimately offer little substance to the crux of this story, Cruella doesn’t earn her iconic namesake or attitude through will and endeavor, the last act goes through most of the usual twist nonsense we’ve gotten accustomed to seeing and even before we get to that last act, the script falters quite a bit. It's not atrocious by any means, but it definitely could have been polished up.
There’s no big emotional punch for the woman who’s made a living out of making coats out of SKINNING DALMATIANS and that within itself shows how rather messy this plan to humanize her was if you’re going to center your story around someone like Cruella de Vil.
I don’t mean to be cruel here....but for Disney, it’s another case of so close yet so far. I would endorse another look at it however? While flawed and easily forgettable, it was the most fun I had with these Disney remakes so far and it did make forget that it even WAS a live action Disney remake.....which ironically, is the best bit of praise I could give it. Cheerio, darlings!