Cruella Isn’t Evil, She’s A Dog Loving Genius (Wait What?) | Review
Cruella de Vil is a woman desperate to kill dogs, skin them, and make coats out of their fur. We all know that about the 101 Dalmatians villain. Yet we never knew how she became that evil lady. Well, thanks to Disney’s Cruella, we now have answers. And more questions. Isn’t she a huge piece of pop culture specifically because she wants to kill dogs? It’s the entire point of her character…right? Well…I’ll get to that in a moment. First, I want to say some nice things about the movie.
The Emma’s Are Really Dang Good! So Are The Costumes.
Emma Stone is one of her generations loudest and brightest acting talents. She’s already won an Oscar for 2016’s La La Land, and has been starring in comedy classics like Superbad and Zombieland since she burst onto the scene. Here, she gets to shine as a layered character who can flip from the meek and eager-to-learn Estella (the character’s given name), to the bold, clever, and physically imposing Cruella. Stone proves yet again she can carry a movie, even one of this size that requires everything from dramatic beats, action scenes, and comedic moments.
Emma Thompson might be even better. If I’m being truthful, I feel Thompson is playing a more “Cruella” type character than Stone is. The Baroness is mean spirited, narcissistic to a degree that even Saturday Night Live would find over the top, and incapable of empathy. Thompson relishes her chance to play such a role in a big budget production, and doesn’t make a single misstep as a performer. She steals every scene she’s in.
The Emma’s are clearly having fun playing with the “cruel boss/quiet genius” dynamic that’s straight out of the The Devil Wears Prada playbook (yes, everyone will use this example, but it’s accurate as heck and I love that movie so of course I’m going to reference it). They also enjoy putting on the metaphorical boxing gloves for the rivalry that ensues between The Baroness and the “Cruella” side of Stone’s character.
It should be mentioned that everyone in the cast is solid, and while some like Paul Walter Hauser get standout moments, I do feel most weren’t given characterization so much as Emma Stone narration to explain their role to the audience.
To me, the third most important character is actually the costumes. They’re in your face, inventive, and look gorgeous on the big screen. If you’re going to make a movie about fashion, you at least better crush the designs, and they often do.
That being said…
There’s Too Much Narration.
The movie overuses narration to explain everything to the audience. We’re told Estella/Cruella is a genius over and over. We’re told her life is tragic everytime a tragic thing happens. Whenever she’s feeling emotion or coming up with a scheme, we’re told so instead of letting Stone’s performance speak for itself. We’re even TOLD about how good of friends she is with another character rather than the actors being allowed to develop that relationship onscreen. So much is dictated to us by Stone, that the script could work as a radio play. The movie doesn’t trust us to follow along or find nuance.
Cruella Loves Dogs. Wait, What?
Near the beginning of the film we see a young Estella make her first true friend, a puppy, when she gets thrown into a dumpster by some bullies at her school. She takes the pup home and her mom lets her keep it. You might be asking yourself if something tragic happens to the dog and that’s part of why Cruella dislikes dogs so much in every other incarnation of this character. Nah.
In fact, that dog is still around at the end of the film. She doesn’t do anything mean to dogs at all in this film, other than having her friends steal a couple dogs, who she later adopts anyway. Then when those dogs have puppies she gives some away to people she barely knows! With a letter that reads “Love, Cruella.” That’s…so evil?
I love that they made Cruella into a fashion obsessed savant with talent to spare, as you need to give a protagonist more to work with than simply wanting to kill dogs; but if this is an origin for that character, doesn’t making her love dogs so much go way against everything that she becomes? This story leads right up to referencing the original story. Yet we feel further away from that version of the character by the end instead of closer. This movie creates more questions about her than it answers.
What The Heck Is Up With The Soundtrack?
Guardians of the Galaxy or Baby Driver this is not.
Yes, the movie takes place in the 1970’s, but you’d swear the filmmakers had no idea how to make sure you knew that without the soundtrack. Every overused song from the era gets used here. Not only are these often completely uninspired choices that don’t inform the characters or the scenes, it’s just a cheap attempt to make you feel like you’re having a good time.
The last time I felt music choices were this sloppy and this in my face was 2016’s Suicide Squad. That film had no idea how to deliver the tone it wanted and as a result hid behind random song choices to make you feel something. It’s the same deal here. What sucks is that Cruella is a much more competent film than that 2016 antihero flick was, and several scenes would have worked better with no music at all.
I know some people will still say “hey, what’s the big deal? Those songs are great!” And yes, many of them are classics for a reason, but that doesn’t mean they fit the movie. The fact that I was thinking about them so much during the movie is a major problem.
The score was pretty darn good (albeit rarely used), and it would have played a lot better if it had been allowed to breathe instead of being suffocated by other works that weren’t written for this movie or story. This felt like a teenager who’s just starting to get into music putting their own soundtrack under the film and uploading it to YouTube.
The Movie Is Too Long. Worse Yet, It Feels Every Second Of It.
All of this also speaks to a larger issue, which is that the editing and pace of the movie is off. As long as this movie feels, and it does FEEL long, some scenes felt rushed and left me wanting more from them while others dragged on, and others seemed repetitive.
By the time the movie is ramping up to the third act, I should have felt excited or at least invested enough to be really curious where it was going. Instead, I was almost annoyed that they were somehow setting us up for another 25-30 minutes, as I was ready to be done. Maybe at home on Disney+ that’s less of a big deal, as you can simply pause it and finish it later. However, movies are meant to be enjoyed in one sitting. They aren’t TV shows broken into parts.
Right as I was imagining what it would be like to walk out of the theater (something I’ve never done), a couple in my row DID get up and leave. As they got past the doors I heard them burst into laughter. I didn’t want to leave, but I was antsy and uninvested. I love longer movies and have a ton of patience when it comes to storytelling, but this honestly felt longer to me than movies like Avengers: Endgame (3 hours) and Titanic (3 hrs 15 min). Problem is Cruella is only 2 hrs 14 min.
There’s a really fun, bold movie in here. Perhaps one that has nothing to do with a Cruella origin story. I can almost imagine the filmmakers had an original idea and then compromised and made it about Cruella just to get it made. And then they compromised and threw in popular songs because “it works for James Gunn.” And then they compromised by pulling back on how edgy it would be. And then…well, you get the idea.
Score: 5 out of 10