Cruella (Review)

Though a step up from the atrocious Mulan, Cruella is another poor live-action outing from Disney. This time, they’ve taken a slight step towards originality, moving away from adapting their animations and instead making prequels to them. An interesting choice, especially when the films never needed prequels in the first place. Rather than letting Cruella De Vil just be an iconic villain, we now know how she became Cruella. The inescapable failure of this film is that this is a question that never needed asking, never mind answering. Cruella is a gleefully evil character that is only lessened by a sympathetic backstory. And while there’s some fun to be had here – at rare moments – the overwhelming pointlessness cuts against every moment of it.

Frequently, this film will insert itself into 101 Dalmatians, or the surrounding ‘lore’. If you thought the Han Solo name reveal in Solo was bad, get ready for a film defined by those moments. If this was not a prequel to an animated classic, it would perhaps be fine, but every moment that links it to that film is atrocious. The hoops it has to leap through to position itself within the self contained narrative – and world – of 101 Dalmatians are just ridiculous. It constantly proves that this film does not ned to exist and that no justifying narrative exists. But, the rich want to get richer – and this is the easiest path.

As it completely fails as a prequel, the best way to judge this is as a standalone film. First of all, the production design is gorgeous. Sets and locations are fabulous with a strong aesthetic throughout the film; costuming is lavish and exciting, giving traditional period fare but with an energetic twist. On a purely design level, the film has a lot of style and uses it quite well. Alas, the filmmaking is not on par with this. There is a lack of confidence and artistry to the camera work. Most of the time, it just flies around – seemingly on a drone – showing off a mobility that they think equals dynamism. However, though a mobile camera is often a glorious thing, the movements here feel artless and unintentional. The camera just swoops around in ways that are not additive to the scenes, and that bring no wide purpose.

Additionally, the performances are okay – Emma Stone ultimately delivers (as does the young girl playing young De Vil), though they are constrained by really subpar material. Every dynamic and tone feels at least a decade out of date, ending up with a finished project that consistently evokes eye rolls. The film exudes Girlboss energy and, in general, is just trying way too hard. The film so desperately wants to be edgy, and twisted, and weird – unconventional, even. But then it also wants to please everybody and to cater to the widest audience. The result is a focus-grouped, manufactured edge that comes across as deeply inauthentic. There’s a reason I think a film like Babe: Pig in the City is a masterpiece while others dislike it: that film is strange; that film does take risks. That film is the over the top, chaotic and imaginative picture this wants to be, but would never dare to be. This is just instantly forgettable.

Ultimately, there are things to enjoy here. You will titter in places and there are some visually striking moments. But, you will spend more time rolling your eyes and the entire thing feels like a complete waste of time. At two hours and seventeen minutes, it also wastes a lot of time. This film is very poorly paced and does not have the narrative to cover the runtime. It also just does basically nothing with the runtime: we are supposed to see the birth of Cruella but the character arc is so poorly handled and the final movements feel completely unjustified. But, at least you get a good juke box soundtrack, with a clear aesthetic – and even some really cool covers of known classics. It is not enough to make it a good movie but it is one of the few positive points you can glean from this bloated nothing of a film.

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