Crime Continues to Pay — Cruella
I feel like singing. It doesn’t happen all that often, but every once in a while, a movie comes along that puts a song in my heart. I was just as surprised as anyone else that this would be the one to do it, but I cannot deny it when inspiration strikes. So sit back, fire up your karaoke machines, and let’s get schwifty!
Cruella the film,
Cruella the film!
Nobody asked for this.
No one ever will.
It made me want to overdose on PILLS!
Cruella, What the hella…
It’s more painful than your dentist with his drill!
Please don’t watch Cruella the film!
Seriously, what a piece of garbage. I gave it an honest look, I really, truly did. And in fairness, this is not the worst movie I’ve seen so far this year, as I found a handful of things to marginally enjoy. But what little good this film has is FAR outweighed by the sheer avalanche of horrible that Disney has foisted upon us yet again. And like just about every live action remake, prequel, or remake prequel sequel they’ve crapped out over the last decade, the core issue is still the same — character. In the depths of their unending greed, Disney once more completely ignores what made this character fun and exciting in favor of slapdash jokes or gimmicks designed to look cool on a poster (and maybe shamelessly campaign for Oscars). They bend over backwards to retcon everything we once enjoyed in order to feed us the same shit we’ve eaten for years, and yet still, STILL, the movie-going public has yet to rise up as one and SLAY THEM!
Because I don’t want to rant endlessly (I’m already on beta blockers, my blood pressure doesn’t need to go any higher), I will start off on a mildly positive note. There are exactly FOUR things I liked about this movie. Three of them are minor, while the fourth is what saves this picture from being a complete abject failure. First, there’s the score. One of the major problems with this movie is its obsession with needle drops. There are over 30 of them, and they’re more on the nose than that zit you can’t seem to pop. As Cruella dyes her hair red, cue the Rolling Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow.” “Fire” by the Ohio Players comes on when she literally sets a fire. I’ve been assaulted by less blunt objects. But, BUT, when the movie decides to stop dicking around with the soundtrack, we actually get a very nice orchestral score from Oscar-nominated composer Nicholas Britell ( Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk). Like that previous work, he’s able to blend modern sounds with those of the era of the film (inexplicably moved up from the mid-60s to the 70s because fuck you, continuity!), and change the tone on the emotional whims of the characters.
Second is Wink. Who is Wink, you ask? Wink is a small dog with an eyepatch. That’s all you need to know. He participates in the capers and inexplicably is able to pull off major stunts and heists despite no skill whatsoever. But it doesn’t matter because EYEPATCH PUPPY! Third, Emma Stone as Cruella has one, ONE line that made me laugh. Late in the film, as she self-congratulates on her latest scheme, her cohort Jasper (Joel Fry) compares her to her nemesis, noting “She’s a homicidal maniac, and you’re not,” to which Cruella scoffs, “Well, we don’t know that, yet. I’m still young.” Okay, you got me there. That’s fucking funny.
But those three elements pale in comparison to the one true saving grace of the film, and that’s Emma Thompson as the obviously evil Baroness, London’s leading fashion designer, Cruella’s employer/rival, and the aforementioned homicidal maniac. Thompson plays the Baroness the way we wanted Emma Stone to play Cruella. She’s ruthless, irredeemable, cruel beyond measure, and yet somehow just the right amount of charming that stops you from trying to jump into the screen and strangle her yourself. I’m opposed to the idea of these remakes and prequels on principle, but if you were to pitch me an origin story for Cruella de Vil, one of the greatest villains in Disney history, THIS is what I would have expected you to give me. She is deliciously evil! Kudos to Thompson for getting the character right, if under the wrong name. Like Michelle Williams in I Feel Pretty, the grade is elevated from the gutter by Thompson’s presence alone.
The rest of this dreck is beyond saving. We start off with Cruella narrating her childhood but mentioning that she’s dead. Well, this is already some bullshit, because this gimmick has been done multiple times ( American Beauty, The Opposite of Sex, A Clockwork Orange, etc.), and there’s no way it can be satisfying here. We know she’s not really dead, so we’re in for some bigly dumb justification for the word usage, and by the time we get to it, any viewer with the ability to think critically will actively wish she was dead, even though it would mean One Hundred and One Dalmatians could never happen. Emma Stone, putting on an English accent more affected than Madonna’s, narrates that she was somehow born with black and white split hair, because that’s a thing that can happen in Who Gives a Fuck Land. Looking like the kid from the Sia videos, she gets kicked out of school for retaliating against bullies and one-upping them. This is also where she meets Anita, played by Kirby Howell-Baptiste as an adult. Their school friendship is literally the only factoid that connects the animated Cruella to this one. But we can’t even enjoy that small detail, because the film decides to idiotically make her full name “Anita Darling,” because that’s a thing Cruella said in the cartoon as a term of endearment, so of course it has to be her actual name now! Fuck me. Oh, and speaking of names, Cruella’s real name is Estella, which means Disney is now ripping off their own shitty remakes, as this was the exact same nonsense from the live action Cinderella.
Estella’s mother, Catherine (Emily Beecham), plans to take her to London to start a new life, but first she stops by a palatial mansion where there’s a big, fancy party going on, to ask a “friend” for money. Estella is told to stay in the car with her dog, Buddy. But of course, because unsupervised kids are the worst, and because the movie has to happen (in the minds of Disney executives only), Estella crashes the party, causes a scene, and then, get this, her mother is killed when security Dalmatians knock her off a cliff.
Now, before you scream, “SPOILERS, BILL!” there are two things to bear in mind. One, I learned about this so-called “spoiler” before I even saw the movie, as social media was littered with it the day after the movie premiered, so there’s practically no way you’ve avoided this fact for this long. Two, I desperately don’t want you to watch this movie, so I have no qualms about giving away one of the big “twists,” (air quotes) and I’ll do it again before I’m done here.
I do this because this development is so monumentally stupid that it’s almost beyond comprehension. Cruella de Vil, the lady who wanted to SKIN DALMATIAN PUPPIES ALIVE FOR A FUR COAT, had her mother killed by Dalmatians? Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, and double fuck you! Never mind that the CGI on this scene is terrible. Never mind that it’s obvious who the “friend” was (even though the movie won’t reveal it for another hour plus). And never mind that somehow a running dog can jump onto a person’s chest to knock them to their death, but somehow stop its own momentum as to not go over the edge itself, because physics!
This is one of the dumbest things I have ever seen in a Disney movie, and that is saying something. I hated Maleficent (and it’s sequel) for a lot of reasons, but I can at least buy the central conceit in a vacuum that she wasn’t really evil, it was just a biased version of the story. It’s idiotic, but at least within the realm of possibility in this multiverse. But Dalmatians killing Cruella’s mother? What’s next? An Ursula movie where she gave up her legs for a singing voice and was only trying to be made whole again? A Mad Madam Mim film where she wasn’t mad, just off her meds a bit? A Snow White movie where the queen is justifiably angry because the movie inexplicably posits that Charlize Theron is less hot than Kristen Stewart? Oh wait, someone already did that. Well, at least it means Disney can’t screw up Snow White for a while yet.
*Checks casting notices in Variety*
With our brains sufficiently melted, Estella flees to London, where she meets with Horace and Jasper (the former played by Paul Walter Hauser, who is there to be fat, and that’s it), and they form a gang of lovable street urchin pick pockets, because apparently Oliver and Company wasn’t enough of a Dickens ripoff for the House of Mouse. You remember Horace and Jasper, right? They’re the lackeys that Cruella verbally and physically abused in the cartoon to illustrate just how obsessive and evil she was! Well, now they’re “family,” a term used so often they might as well be in the next Fast and Furious abortion.
The trio grows up, with their dogs somehow never aging, and they get by, but Estella dreams of being a famous fashion designer, like the Baroness. Through a series of bullshit coincidences, Jasper gets her a job at a boutique, Estella’s boss turns out to be an elitist prick, which makes anything she does to give him comeuppance justified, she gets drunk and throws a bunch of garbage on a mannequin, and the Baroness somehow sees this and hires her on the spot. Dream achieved. Let that be a lesson to you, kids. Don’t work hard, just commit crimes until you conveniently get everything you ever wanted purely out of happenstance. Disney — our racist crows are somehow our least problematic bit of messaging!
Under the employ of the Baroness, Estella quickly rises through the ranks and becomes more ambitious. She meets a consignment shop designer named Artie (John McCrea), who is unofficially Disney’s first openly gay character, but they never actually come out and say it, because we can’t sacrifice that China box office, now can we? Artie is a walking, talking stereotype, but between his flair and Estella learning of the Baroness’ wicked ways, she reverts to her “original” hairstyle and assumes the persona of Cruella, bursting on the scene as a bombastic rival on the London fashion scene.
So you see, Cruella isn’t an evil character who “lives for furs” and has a “perfectly wretched” existence where she wants to SKIN DALMATIAN PUPPIES ALIVE FOR A FUR COAT, she’s an iconoclastic fashionista who disrupted the uptight traditions of 70s design. She’s an artist! And you’re not allowed to not like artists, otherwise you’re a bad person who hates expression! Oh, and also she started the London Punk Rock scene, because fuck you.
Yes, Cruella de Vil is punk. So totally anti-establishment. From the largest media conglomerate in the world that is literally recycling its old properties again and again and forcing you to pay for it. And people thought Green Day sold out.
And let’s talk about this so-called “fashion” for a second, because it’s clear that in addition to unchecked greed, Disney is obviously trying to wrangle Oscar nominations for costuming and makeup. Given Hollywood’s overall laziness, they’ll likely succeed, which is why I watched the movie now to save myself the trouble next year. These outfits are just eyesores. The Baroness’ dresses are run-of-the-mill boring, standard evening gowns, and Cruella’s angry ensembles are just a bunch of shit thrown together that the film insists on calling stylish because the film can’t happen otherwise, even though Cruella’s fame is 100% down to her bribing Anita for preferential coverage in a daily fashion newspaper (because those were things that ever existed). The film is admitting that there’s no substance to any of this “style,” and that our ostensible hero is the 70s equivalent of an Instagram “influencer” who gets paid to advertise shitty makeup that burns your face. These costumes are ugly as sin, and Stone is covered in so many bad wigs and pancake makeup as to look like an insane clown desperate for a posse.
It’s like Disney’s actively trolling us at this point. I have to imagine that every development meeting at some stage has to have a conversation about how much stupid shit they can put in these movies and still convince the audience to fork over money. It’s insulting beyond measure, and there’s a LOT of it on display throughout this train wreck. And that’s before we get to the half-hour-too-long climax that extends the movie well beyond its logical ending point, the unbelievability of the Baroness never recognizing Cruella by voice, figure, or face when only here eyes are covered (it works in The Incredibles because it’s a cartoon, not in real life), or the sheer middle finger to the audience of having Cruella breed Dalmatians and give Anita and Roger (Kayvan Novak) Perdita and Pongo as puppies. Told you I’d reveal another “twist” (air quotes) by the end of this.
So if we’re to now accept this movie as canon for the character, we now have to embrace the following contradictory conditions. She isn’t really evil, even though she says she is, but she only fights against those who deserve it. Her mother was killed by Dalmatians to fuel a hatred for them that she also no longer has. All along she only cared about becoming a world-famous fashion designer with a token gay friend and only makes a passing remark about furs instead of them being her only happiness. And not only does she actually love Dalmatians, she breeds them, setting the events of One Hundred and One Dalmatians into motion, only now she has to age at least 20 years, then go back in time more than a decade before this film’s events so that she can be in the 60s with her dogs’ children as adults, switch Roger and Anita’s races (Roger is Iranian and Anita is black; I don’t care about who you cast, and since Emma Stone once played a half Asian, clearly neither does she, just be consistent in your casting as it relates to established stories), have your dogs’ children commit incest to inbreed them so that they can give birth to your dogs’ grandchildren, and then immediately kidnap those grandchildren (which somehow you’re still incredulous about them not having spots at birth even though you’ve bred these dogs and would obviously know this fact) along with 84 other puppies so you can SKIN THEM ALIVE FOR A FUR COAT! It’s like the worst kind of heist movie, where they reveal that every twist before and after the movie was part of the protagonist’s plan all along, even though someone with a PhD in mathematics would never be able to suss out the logic of said plan.
If you want to change a thing or two for the sake of a cohesive story, fine. But this movie goes way too far, betraying and destroying everything we knew and loved about this character for no reason beyond Disney’s avarice. They couldn’t just do a movie about a bad guy and let them be bad. And when you’re just making shit up as you go along that any casual fan could call out as an intentional, assholic level of wrong, especially for a movie that never needed to exist in the first place, at some point you need to be held accountable for the damage you’ve done. And since clearly audiences keep living down to Disney’s expectations of stupidity to the point that they’ll never face financial penalties, at some point you have to wonder about criminal, because whoever decided that this, THIS, was what we wanted to see from one of our favorite villains… well, let’s just finish the song.
At first you’ll think Cruella is atrocious,
But if you take the time to look within,
You’ll come to realize,
This whole thing’s just a lie,
It’s Devil Wears Prada by way of Harley Quinn!
I love Emma Stone,
But this was a fail.
Whoever green-lit this,
Should be thrown in jail! (or gaol, for the Brits)
Let’s burn the reels, delete the files, and KILL,
Cruella, Cruella, the film!
Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? How much further can Disney sink? Can I cuddle with Wink to get over my pain in seeing this? Let me know!
Originally published at http://actuallypaid.com on June 24, 2021.