The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema/Disney+] - CRUELLA | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema/Disney+] - CRUELLA

cruella review
The origin story of the 101 Dalmations villain.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Craig Gillespie

Starring: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Mark Strong

cruella poster

The key to creating a memorable movie villain is quite simple really. Cinema is a visual medium, so all you need to do is get the look of your villain right. When Darth Vader enters the screen in the opening of Star Wars we instantly know he's a badass. We don’t know anything about his backstory or how he might have been a good kid who made a bad life choice somewhere along the way. We just know he looks fucking awesome. That's enough. Michael Myers' outfit is just a mechanic's baggy overalls and a spray-painted William Shatner mask, but it's that very simplicity, that blank canvas, that makes him so damn creepy. We didn't need two movies explaining that actually, it was Michael's tough childhood in a White Trash environment that made him a monster. Vader and Myers arrived on screen like every good villain should, fully formed.

cruella review

The origin story is probably the least interesting story format, because it essentially all takes place before an iconic character becomes iconic, before the good stuff. It's the basket of bread before the Filet Mignon, and if you gorge on bread you probably won’t enjoy your main course as much as you would have on an empty stomach. Too often, origin stories serve to make characters less interesting. Han Solo is a cool moniker, right? But it's not so cool when we're told it was given to him by some bureaucrat who needed to fill out a form. Cruella de Vil is a fantastic name for a baddy, but when we learn that she took her name from a make of car we just roll our eyes.

We're given that nugget of pointless information in Cruella, Disney's latest attempt to rinse and repeat one of their beloved properties. This one gives us the origin story of the villainess of 101 Dalmations. Played by Emma Stone (doing her best Helena Bonham Carter impression), Cruella is reimagined as a Vivienne Westwood-esque fashion designer in '70s London.

cruella review

How do you rehabilitate a character we know will ultimately plan on skinning puppies? Well you give her an antagonist of her own. Enter Emma Thompson as The Baroness, London's top designer, and the woman responsible for the death of Cruella's mother (Emily Beecham) as a child. The Baroness is for all intents and purposes this film's Cruella de Vil, which makes you wonder why Disney didn't just remake 101 Dalmations again with Thompson in the role. Oh yes, I remember now, you can't have a woman over the age of 40 headlining a Hollywood movie, and so we get the sexy young version of Cruella instead. Sigh.

Struggling to justify this movie, the screenwriters have settled on a Devil Wears Prada by way of All About Eve storyline, in which Cruella takes a job as an underling of The Baroness while plotting her downfall. This plan takes an age, as the film is dragged out to a soul destroying two hours and 15 minutes. It's hard to imagine any kids having the patience to sit through a plodding movie made by a bunch of aging British men reminiscing about the Glam Rock era. Even with all that time allotted, the script has to resort to exposition dumps to fill in the story. At one point Mark Strong gives a speech that made me think of that notorious moment where Dick Miller explains the whole plot of Roger Corman's The Terror, all "The Baron this" and The Baron that."

cruella review

Director Craig Gillespie was most likely hired because he has previous in telling the story of an iconic villain with his entertaining Tonya Harding biopic I, Tonya, but Tonya Harding had an actual story. All Gillespie can do to enliven this obligatory bout of IP mining is slap a host of foot-tapping '60s, '70s and '80s tunes on the soundtrack (even though the film is set in 1975) and have his camera sweep and swoosh through a CG recreation of '70s London. A funky needle drop and an elaborate camera move doesn't make you Scorsese though; in most cases it makes you Guy Ritchie, and ultimately it's Ritchie's awful Mockney geezer cinema that Cruella is most reminiscent of. The money is certainly on the screen, most of it likely spent on music rights and costume materials, but wouldn't it be nice if a Hollywood studio gave a filmmaker such resources to make their own movies instead of constantly trying to fit their artistic square pegs into capitalism's round holes?

Cruella is in UK cinemas and on Disney+ Premium Access now.

2021 movie reviews