Directed By Craig Gillespie
Starring – Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry
The Plot – Before she becomes Cruella de Vil? Teenaged Estella (Stone) has a dream. She wishes to become a fashion designer, having been gifted with talent, innovation, and ambition all in equal measures. But life seems intent on making sure her dreams never come true. Having wound up penniless and orphaned in London at 12, 4 years later Estella runs wild through the city streets with her best friends and partners-in-(petty)-crime, Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (Fry), two amateur thieves. When a chance encounter vaults Estella into the world of the young rich and famous, however, she begins to question the existence she’s built for herself in London and wonders whether she might, indeed, be destined for more after all. When an up-and-coming rock star commissions Estella to design him a signature piece, she begins to feel as though she has truly arrived. But what is the cost of keeping up with the fast crowd- and is it a price Estella is willing to pay?
Rated PG-13 for some violence and thematic elements
– Stylishly sleek. Easily the most eye-fetching aspect of the film, and one that works seamlessly reflective towards the visual contrast of the titular protagonist is the abundance of details in the production design that bring all of the imaginative qualities of a Disney film but for entirely different reasons than we’re used to. In this regard, the film’s color pallet is intentionally bland, made better to not only cater towards the essence of the period piece, but also to play exceptionally towards the futuristic splash of color that spring from Cruella’s visionary appeal. The costumes and wardrobe designs conjure a big stage enveloping, all the while bottling a fiery color coordination that sprinkle an occasional three dimensional quality to the delight of on-screen admirers. Finally, the variation of set designs that fruitfully illustrate the divide between upper class sophistication and lower class poverty emit a stage-like presence to their captivation, working equally reflective towards the movie’s presentation, which evolves with this new cultural influence persistent in the world of fashion within the film.
– Infectious score. Disney definitely has no problems spending money. The biggest evidence of which coming from the collection of 70’s vintage favorites within the soundtrack that each serve their own audible identity throughout the many character introductions that the film hurls at us. Artists like The Rolling Stones, The Zombies, and even The Doors help to convey a particularly unique feeling in British pop appeal that vividly illustrates psychology in the mind of the protagonist from which they sprung from. As an example, when we are introduced to Emma Thompson’s Baroness antagonist, we are treated to The Doors’ “Five To One”, in all of its intimidatingly bleak emphasis, which in turn grants us an inescapably unnerving enveloping in which we are meant to fear her. Adding to this purpose, each of the tracks offer familiarity to a particular place in time that feels uniquely distinct when compared to a majority of other abstract Disney tales, giving us a collective consistency that audibly teleports us with a wide range of types and tempo’s equally playing towards the movie’s devilishly delicious personality.
– Perfect casting. Stone by herself would be enough to garner attention to the picture, encompassing a two for one tug of war in characterization that capably brings to life the internal struggle between Cruella and Estella at the cost of those surrounding her. As Estella, it’s Stone’s bumbling trepidation that feels most evident in her defining features, combated with a sultry confidence that she wears as Cruella that does play particularly well into the idea of these being two entirely different people. Stone is met with an equally spell-binding performance from Emma Thompson’s Baroness, whom is as insatiably evil as any antagonist that I can remember in recent memory. Thompson’s biggest weapon is the air of unabashed honesty that she wears with some truly gaping stretches of logic. It helps to convey the disconnect that she bears not only with her peers, but also with the brush of humanity that waved goodbye to her a long time ago, outlining us with a character that proves Cruella may have indeed met her match. Finally, I loved the casting of Fry and especially Hauser as Cruella’s fabled henchmen. The former of which supplanting an air of heart that serves as the last batch of humanity holding onto Estella while the darker side of her demeanor takes over, and the latter granting us many scene stealing turns of humility to play towards the movie’s well-timed comic muscle.
– Fulfilled promises. Unlike the disaster that was last year’s “Mulan”, “Cruella” too brings with it a daring PG-13 rating, but with entirely different results in its material. For the world of Disney, this is especially risque when you have themes of brunt brutality, animal skinning, and even murder playing at the forefront, giving us a taste of the kids movies of yesterday that I grew up with, where studios respected youthful audiences with real problem plaguing the world. For the material here, everything feels right in line with said rating without feeling obviously forced or distractingly elevated for the taboo of exploring a previously unexplored rating. It lines up accordingly with the character of Cruella, especially as an orphan who was forced to endure and witness many hardships that shaped the woman we see before us in the movie’s second and third acts, and proves that risky material can serve a beneficial purpose if done meticulously during the moments when its impact can be heard the loudest.
– Valued deviation. While not always a screenplay that left me remarkably impressed, I did appreciate some clever turns in the execution that played towards the story that I was expecting to see, all the while conjuring up a couple of jaw-dropping twists along the way. What’s most surprising is that one of these in particular should’ve been obvious to me from the word go, but because the film cloaks its anonymity in a way that feels like a throwaway line of dialogue spoken during the first few scenes of the initial first act, its appearance during the movie’s climax brought everything full circle on its way towards redefining the stakes, leading to an inevitable confrontation that was made all the more intriguing when you learn that some of these characters aren’t exactly who they or the movie perceive them to be.
– Punk rock cinematography. One of the most stylish cinematographers working today who never gets the credit he deserves because his visual ambition serves for these terrible films is Nicolas Karakatsanis, and what’s so great about the direction he steers the camera in this film is the abundance of pulse-setting sequencing that makes this feel like anything other than a typical Disney conveyer belt film. Quick pans far and near bottling the intensity of the movie’s musical montage sequences, navigating shifts and turns during car chase sequences, and of course spell-binding photography of these visual text and colorful transitional sequences, complete a lucid presentation that churned out no shortage of personality for the movie’s visual likeness, all the while not hindering on the focus of the story in domination of style (I’m talking to you Suicide Squad). All of these elements not only add to the fresh outlook that Cruella is instilling to the fashion world in the film, but also in appealing to an audience beyond the film, fleshing out one of the more entrancing experiences that Disney has bottled in quite some time.
– Constant borrowing. One unshakeable aspect that repeatedly sprung in my experience with “Cruella” was a series of reminders from previous films that it shamefully borrows a majority of its material from. Such an example exists in “The Devil Wears Prada”, a movie about an intern who takes a job with a hard-edged fashion executive in order to make a name for herself when it’s all over. Sound familiar? I can understand movies being occasionally derivative of other films. After all, I feel it would be nearly impossible to make a completely original film that doesn’t remind you of a predecessor. However, the situations and material for this film bears more than a striking resemblance to previous films, and generally come out of nowhere when compared to everything we’ve learned about Cruella in films underneath the umbrella of this respective universe. “The Devil Wears Prada” is only one of the many instances I found along the way, all proving that this film had so very little originality in its supposedly original character study.
– Technical hiccups. I’m reminded of two instances that dramatically hindered my enjoyment of the film, outlining two contemporary cliches that Disney simply can’t escape regardless of how much they deviate from the formula. The computer generation of dogs is poorly rendered, occasionally emoting them with an unpleasantly animated emphasis that is neither believable nor visually appealing for what we as an audience are asked to interpret. In addition to this, there are some of the worst green screen sky backdrops that I have ever seen in a movie, especially during the third act climax, where I felt I was watching Goro’s demise off of the cliff during the 1995 “Mortal Kombat”. Finally, the consistency of overhead narration read by Stone throughout the film was completely pointless, as it illustrated nothing different from what we as an audience were colorfully interpreting within the story and character movements. It wouldn’t be such a problem if it only periodically popped up, but its annoying consistency makes the torture virtually inescapable as it conveys the kind of hand-holding lines of pivotal exposition that it has no confidence in its audience to coherently interpret, giving us two hours of echoing torture that never gets easier with time.
– Too long. Speaking of said run time, 132 minutes for a Disney origins story is a bit too long for my taste. Most of the problem stems from a repetition in montage sequences during the second act that seems to hammer home the same effect three or four times that the first instance successfully rendered. Beyond that, some of the character dynamics, primarily one with Estella and a certain childhood friend, are given far too much script time with what little resonates from them, in turn feeling like excess baggage that weighs the story and its pacing down during moments when less would’ve meant so much more. There’s also a bit too much time spent on Estella during her childhood years that could’ve just as easily been montaged into a general summary conveying the same ideal. Keeping it only further adds to the repetition that I previously mentioned, making “Cruella” feel like a first cut version of a film with many future edits to go.
– Missing pieces. As a continuity story serving as the first chapters before “101 Dalmations”, there’s simply not enough believability from the end of this film to the beginning of that film to constitute this as the same person. Especially considering the mid credits scene that resolves this film on a light-hearted air, it makes all the less sense when we run into Cruella during “101 Dalmations”, and she’s virtually inhuman. Adding to my problem most evidently in this perspective is the justification for Disney villains that has unfortunately become a problem in recent years, with “Cruella” being its latest victims. This is when a villain really won’t serve as a villain by film’s end, thus cutting into the transformation, and in turn ruining a series of time honored classics because all of the pieces of continuity don’t seamlessly fit where they belong. For this film, Cruella definitely shows instances of questionable behavior, but it never feels like aspects that are a part of her internal registry, instead serving as an advantageous opportunity to get one up on her competition.
My Grade: 6/10 or C+