Review: ‘Cruella’ is saved by its own simplicity
How do you make the audience love a woman who is infamous for wanting to skin puppies? You got it Disneyfy, it turns out – which is ridiculous to say about a character who has been with Disney since 1961, but with Cruella, Disney makes de Vil safe, familiar and widely acceptable. If you wanted an origin story for the lady who would kill for a good coat, that’s not what it is at all. Cruella is an almost total reinvention of the character. But who are we to complain about something new?
It’s “something new” in the Disney context, so you know – it’s more of a different brand of crisps than a whole new diet. We meet Cruella (Emma Stone) as a child, still under her birth name Estella, flying to survive on the streets of London. She lives in a dismal hiding place with her fellow thieves Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), with whom she plans small grifts to stay afloat. Estella wanted to be a fashion designer before life broke down, so she designed the trio’s disguises, sewing elaborate outfits that eventually caught the eye of London’s fashion queen: the lavish Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson).
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The film try to make it look like a big amount of money compared to the little guy setup, but Cruella is first and foremost a big money product, and it’s impossible to shake the feeling that this is the same old Disney model with a darker coat of paint. The storyline contains all of the Disney snaps in the catalog: a parental tragedy, acolytes of different form, a villain who starts off as an ally, another “openly gay first character” who isn’t explicitly queer, and even friends. cute animals, despite what the titular character is best known for. The plot beats are plagiarized; it’s the story of a hero’s journey with the name of a connected villain. Disney homogenizes its own past.
To thicken that corporate air Cruellathe soundtrack of, which is the funniest and most licensed collection of songs from this side of Suicide Squad. It didn’t have to be that way: Disney hired Nicholas Britell, composer of the magnificent score of Moonlight, for God’s sake, but they hid his work behind the most obvious successes imaginable. And despite CruellaThe punk posture, a handful of songs are just 70s pop radio. But the soundtrack sounds expensive, and that money sure gets it back.
And yet, faced with its many tricks, something about Cruella makes it highly observable from moment to moment. That something is the Emma factor. Stone and Thompson have the time of their Lives as fashion icons in a duel, chewing the landscape like it’s the last edible material on earth. Thompson makes a camper the devil wears Prada; Stone plays Vil like a flashing provocateur; and when the Emmas clash onscreen, the sparks don’t just fly – they ignite. Their performances are so transparent and theatrical that you feel like you should be thanking them backstage afterwards. “You were therefore wrong! I brought flowers!
The silly, low-stakes tone gives the actors a chance to have some fun, even if it doesn’t offer them much else. For a main character, Cruella has little to no internal conflict. The storyline explains right away that Estella’s wicked side has been around since she was a little girl – she even calls herself Cruella when she’s angry – and that she switches between her personalities when it suits her. So when it comes time for adult Estella to stop playing nicely, she simply flips a switch in her mind and becomes a facsimile of a Disney villain. There is no gradual decline or (pardon the comparison) “a bad day” to mourn. There is no risk; Cruella can just put her Estella hat back on when she needs to be nice again. His identity problem is never really a problem, which leaves the character disinfected and sterilized.
Everything that is legitimately counter-cultural slips through the fingers of filmmakers. But with the legendary Jenny Beavan behind the costume design, who needs some thoughts in your head? The craftsmanship that went into the dresses in the film is positively sumptuous, a feast for the eyes that glides banquet after banquet on a colorful tablecloth. Beavan won an Oscar for Mad Max: Fury Roadcostume design and it operates at the same level for Cruella– the film does not get better than what he is wearing. Director Craig Gillespie and his longtime editor Tatiana S. Riegel know when to dwell on the show. They are the architects of a cinematographic track.
Beyond the costume design, Cruella is saved by its own simplicity. Unlike Disney remakes which lazily fueled a popular agenda or half-apologized for the studio’s sins, Cruella skip virtue signaling by skipping virtues completely. Cruella’s cruelty may have been watered down, but it hasn’t been replaced by hollow corporate feminism. It has just been reduced at a good time tested in the market.
★★★½ (3.5 / 5)