I…what do I even…huh?
Cruella is the latest effort in Disney’s attempt to place every animated film in the live-action visual style. Problem is that they did this over a decade ago (my brother kept kicking the seat of the woman in front of him at the Denver Mall, which led her to try to beat my father up in the theatre lobby and then we got kicked out), with Glenn Close absolutely ruling that role. This time they want to toss it into the same realm as Malificent, painting these villains as something to sympathize with because we can’t have the children rooting for a bad guy.
So Cruella is the story of Estella (Emma Stone), an orphan that squats in an apartment with Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) while they pull grifts for money. Trouble is that this woman has the taste of a psychotic fashionista, and she just happens to be living in 1970s London as the punk scene explodes. Cruella goes after The Baroness (Emma Thompson), a designer that rules the West End with an iron fist and may have violent intentions of her own.
Right off the bat let’s just say that these two women are making a sandwich layered in ham, slathered in bacon grease, and piled with cheese. Not a moment between the two of them feels anything less than corny, and it happens to be for the betterment of the film. Each is covered in layers of fabric, springing forth to show everyone the innards of their design.
Design happens to be key, as the real win here are the series of images we’re bombarded with. To some it might feel like an assault, but I found it to be more of a catwalk for director Craig Gillespie to play with. For a film that’s bursting at the seams in an attempt to contain the Disney dominance, Cruella attempts to be gorgeously mean while falling short of the actual nihilism of the 70s British punk movement. The sights and sounds remain, and for most people they will be enough to provide a riveting “what if” supposition that asks, “What if Cruella de Ville (from that animated Disney film) was responsible for punk, goth, and the Gen Z sterilization of emo culture?”
While this looks like Phantom Thread in an insincere leather-daddy Halloween costume, the sound of it is aggressive in every way possible. Needle-drops are a staple of filmmaking, but these sound like a kid stole the password to Quentin Tarantino’s Spotify account while the grindhouse director danced around his home (most likely thinking of his next 70s pastiche thriller playlist). I’m all for those types of song drops, but when you have the absolute cajones to put “Sympathy for the Devil” in your movie I lose all respect for you. It’s sadly the last thing you hear in the film proper, but I hope that no one skips out on the absolute banger that is Nicholas Britell’s score. He wrote one of my favorite film scores a couple of years back, and what he’s doing here feels like a sexy, fashionable angle on Ocean’s Eleven instead of a Disney film. Give credit where it’s due.
Cruella is one of the most frustrating films I’ve sat through since returning to theatres. There’s a great 90 minute film buried in this 135 minute monstrosity; Gillespie’s big-budget masterwork is just sitting there for an editor to go bananas on, but he didn’t let them. I’m overly frustrated with Disney’s failure here, as a film firing on all cylinders still failed. It’s for the Emma Stone crowd, the crowd that worshipped Joker a couple of years back, and the crowd that…just wants to be entertained. I get it, and I enjoyed it overall, but I didn’t like it.
Also she monologues the film’s biggest twist to the camera for reasons that are barely established and ultimately don’t support this horrifying use of exposition. Even if you wind up liking the film…brace yourself for the insult of this scene. While Cruella desperately wanted to be Joker, subtlety is ultimately beyond its grasp.
You can currently catch Cruella in theatres and Disney+, but the latter only offers i for a $30 price that I can’t justify.