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Here we are again. Another live-action remake/re-imagining of a Disney animated film. With a heavy sigh, we go once more into the breach of a company still chasing after safe and assured success away from animation and purchased properties.
Cinderella, The Jungle Book and Pete’s Dragon are the only “Disney remakes” I’ve enjoyed because they sought to do something different or at least more consistent than what had come before. Their original source material wasn’t the best version of that story, so a remake is understandable. Even though I didn’t like Dumbo, it’s in the same category. The only reason these stories should be brought back to today’s audiences is if there is some better way of telling them that enhances their potential.
A remake of 101 Dalmatians sounds fine enough. The original isn’t held on anywhere near the kind of pedestal that other Disney films like Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia or most of the Disney Renaissance are.
There’s just one problem: they already remade it. Twice.
101 and 102 Dalmatians are over 20 years old now and while they certainly aren’t remembered for being good movies, they at least delivered us an iconic over-the-top and perfectly-cast Glenn Close as Cruella De Vil. She knew what the assignment was and got top marks for her effort. So why does Disney think they can do ANOTHER remake of this story but with newer actors?
Because of Maleficent, Venom and Joker.
I am not saying Cruella is Disney’s Joker, because it’s an unfair and groundless comparison. They are films made by and for different people (albeit with some similar cinematography techniques), but they fit into a problematic trend of franchise filmmaking.
Instead of figuring out an original story about a young entrepreneur in the fashion world of 1970s London competing with a ruthless titan of the industry, Disney simply said “what about another villain’s origin story about how they’re really misunderstood and they had reasons to be violent and cruel?”
Stop doing this.
I didn’t like either Maleficent, Venom or Joker because origin stories about famous villains do not work. The idea of a villain or an antagonist is that they are an opposite to a protagonist or hero. Maleficent opposes the grace and innocence of Sleeping Beauty, Venom is created by Spider-Man rejecting newfound power, and the Joker is the ultimate antithesis of Batman. Without any of these elements of opposition, you’re left with flimsy executions inside incoherent story structures.
Cruella is no different.
No one was honestly asking for a Cruella De Vil origin story, and even uttering that premise to others will guarantee a reaction of confusion and rejection. But it’s here now, so does it justify its existence in the end? Not in the slightest.
As I said, the core of the story could’ve worked beyond being a Cruella De Vil origin tale. Emma Stone facing off against Emma Thompson in a battle of extravagant fashion at a time of great cultural upheaval in London, mostly from the punk movement, would have been fantastic. But this is Disney and they refuse risk or genuine originality.
Cruella overstays its welcome in the sourest fashion. The very essential plot of this movie could’ve been boiled down to 90 minutes, but somehow everything is stretched out to a mind-numbing 2 hours and 17 minutes. That length isn’t a problem for most superhero films, but there are no massive or costly set-pieces or even an epic story being told to justify that length. We are tortured with over two hours of cliché narration, campy performances, lame twists, confusing direction, and soundtrack choices that feel worse than the broken-radio song-skipping of Suicide Squad.
For the love of all that is good in this world, stop using “Sympathy for the Devil” in your movie.
Craig Gillespie helms the film and brings on the energetic nature of his direction for his last movie I, Tonya. An emphasis on movement and choreography which helps the film flow fluently in the first half, but you can practically see the split points where a director with a vision was in charge, and where Disney demanded shots and sequences crammed in without logic.
Emmas Stone and Thompson are obviously having as much fun as they can with the material and characters, Thompson particularly making good use of a villain’s villain character. Stone has a good presence as Cruella, but you can’t help but long for a more insane and, you know, villainous performance. The rest of the cast are playing broad caricatures, so you tolerance of them depends on how much you enjoy stiff posh people and Cockney criminals.
One singularly fantastic element of Cruella is Jenny Beavan’s costume design. This is a film ABOUT fashion wars so of course the costume department has their ultimate chance to shine and in this film the execution is brighter than the Sun, not a surprise as Beavan is an Oscar winner for A Room with a View and Mad Max: Fury Road. Cruella’s gowns and dresses and eccentric showmanship is stunning to behold, practically guaranteeing the whole costume department an Oscar nomination next year, and rather unfortunate that her and the department’s work is being sold as a separate fashion line without the consent or knowledge of the team who created it originally.
The sudden sharp turns into VFX are ghastly, the dialogue is rote and tedious (a surprise from The Favourite and The Great screenwriter Tony McNamara), and Disney’s appropriation of the punk aesthetic is pathetic. It’s a dull and meaningless movie that should be a nail-in-the-coffin for a terrible trend of Disney’s film output, but it’ll make a profit and nothing will matter. Cruella looks pretty and does as little as possible. Whatever.
Director: Craig Gillespie
Writers: Dana Fox, Tony McNamara
Starring: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Mark Strong, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser
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