I recently watched Cruella on Disney+. It surprised me. Better than it had any right to be. It’s a superhero story combined with a few heists.
I thought it would be stupid and silly given the prologue. Her hair isn’t dyed? It’s naturally black on one side and white on the other? What is she, Two-Face? Her mother is killed by dalmatians and that’s why she hates them? Her trouble-making at school is marked by “spots” on her record? The name “Cruella” comes from a joke name her mom called her? I mean, come on.
But as it goes on, the movie justifies these story points, twists them, and turns Cruella into a people’s hero.
The hardest part is reconciling the cartoon version with this version. I mean, this is a prequel. If you know psychology and watch this, you’re going to have a bad time.
Someone like animated Cruella wouldn’t give gifts, wouldn’t have friends, and wouldn’t own her own dog. The movie explains how rose to power, but not her decline. Someone who has no compunction about skinning dogs for coats isn’t the same person who spent her formative years homeless and pickpocketing or tried to go legit working a minimum wage job.
In 101 Dalmatians, she goes to Anita and demands those puppies because she thinks she deserves them because she’s a fashion genius. She never thinks for a minute she’ll be told “no”. Because she’s one of those people who always got what she wanted. And then she blames everyone else when she doesn’t get what she wants.
That is not the behavior of someone who went to boarding school, whose mother died in a tragic accident, who lived on the streets for ten years, then scrubbed floors while getting stepped on by her boss. Animated Cruella is not a person who understands you don’t get everything you want in life.
So what you have to do is forget about that version. Put the 101 Dalmatians Cruella you know into a foggy misremembered drunken haze. You will not learn how Cruella got so narcissistic and entitled because this movie is about a different character. It’s a movie about a misunderstood prodigy struggling against conformity and totalitarianism in a creative industry. A Lady Gaga or Andy Warhol.
If you treat these as separate movies in separate universes, then you’ll have a better time. Emma Stone and Emma Thompson are great. It’s like The Devil Wears Prada with a big paint can of black & white “STYLE” poured onto it.
That’s what makes the movie–its style. It’s dripping with it, as you’d expect a movie about a fashion designer to be. Its visual and audio design was made with intent. It seems to take place in the 60s and 70s England, so there’s a lot of “mod” sight and sound, like in Austin Powers. But vampy, not campy. I want to listen to this soundtrack. I still think of the set design, the dresses, the clever acting dichotomy of Estella vs. Cruella.
It’s fun to have a hero who’s not a boy scout, not an eccentric genius inventor, not a super spy… actually just someone female is a boost. There haven’t been a lot of good movies with female protagonists in the past few years. Not only that but she’s a hero who’s a crafter and an artist. Not just a beater-of-ups. She works hard, she puts in the hours.
I think this character might become a new icon, like Maleficent. But she also reminded me of Harley Quinn, especially when she’s whacking people with her cane while wearing an eye mask. (This is a Superhero story, after all.) If Emma Stone wasn’t available, Margot Robbie would have made a great pinch-hitter.
What I don’t understand is why Disney gets totally crazy with its “side-stories” like Maleficent and Cruella and they’re great. But their remakes are dull as dishwater because they either don’t deviate from the source or negate the joy of the original (like Lion King’s expressionless animals or Mulan getting super-chi-powers). It should be reversed. The supervillain origin stories should be by-the-numbers and the remakes need to give something fresh and new, like a cover of a song.
But yes, Cruella. Forget what you may have heard, give it a try. It’s something a little different.