Thursday, May 27, 2021

Cruella - Review

Disney’s live action remakes have been a roller coaster of quality from the surprising success of 2015’s Cinderella to the creatively bankrupt production of 2019’s The Lion King. Thankfully, Cruella falls somewhere in the middle, not falling into the traps that made some outings feel like blatant cash grabs, but also not fully committing to the weirdness that the director is striving for.

Set in the 1970s in London during the punk rock movement, the film follows Estella (Emma Stone), an aspiring fashion designer, and explores the path that will lead her to become a notorious criminal known as Cruella de Vil.

When it comes to Disney’s live action remakes or retellings, they mostly seem to mimic the same aesthetic of their animated counterpart, for better or (mostly) worse. Mercifully, Cruella plays into its 70’s punk-rock London setting, sporting excellent period appropriate production design and costumes that are extravagant in their execution. And in the end, that’s a pretty apt word for the whole endeavor: extravagant, as its performances and story go for the most absurd choices you can imagine.

At the front and center of the updated villain origin story this time around is Emma Stone. The actress has had her fair share of leading roles, even an Oscar to her name, but it’s hard to recall a time where she was allowed to be this over the top and devious at the same time. She’s outstanding as Cruella, chewing up every moment that the film’s very adequate script provides and spinning them into gold. The very Devil Wears Prada dynamic she has with Emma Thompson’s Baroness is basically the major draw of this film, and that aspect, at least, doesn’t disappoint. 

But in the end, despite the success with the visual flair and wild performances, this is still a Disney film, and the writing is where the film’s flaws really originate. The script plays out like any other tale of a villain’s former life, before they turned into the character we all know and love. The character has some tragedy befall them, they turn to petty crime, and eventually, start their very brief path towards evil by the time the credits role. Throw in about 1000 ill-fitting and ill-timed needle drops that overshadow the good score from Nicholas Britell and you’ve got yourself just another decent live action remake that can’t get out of its own way.

Cruella had so many positive aspects going its way that it’s disappointing that the film’s story can’t muster the same wacky and weird energy the rest of the film is going for. Director Craig Gillespie does everything he can to salvage it, and does a fairly decent job, but even the best looking and well-acted films can’t always leap the hurdle of a poor script. As far as Disney’s live action trend goes, Cruella is certainly amongst the upper half of the efforts, but when most of them have been bad, that’s not exactly the biggest compliment either. 

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