by Tyler Wanke and Paul Deeter
New to the website film critic Tyler Wanke and I both had quite a bit to say about Disney's newest live action entry, Cruella. Instead of separating the reviews into two pieces, we've decided for the sake of length per review to combine them and what follows is two different (albeit similarly appreciative) reviews for Cruella (2021). Enjoy!
Tyler Wanke's Review of Cruella
Over the past half-decade or so, Disney has shifted their focus to reimagining some of its classic material. Why not right? People are slaves to the familiar so why not make a remake of what made you money decades ago. For audiences it's exciting, but for true fans or critics, it can be tiring. I don't want to watch a live-action remake of an already superior film, I don't see the point. Yet, Cruella shows that Disney can stick to this live-action business model not with remakes but with reimaginings.
I'm a pretty big One-Hundred and One Dalmatians fan. It had to be one of the first Disney films I remember liking, and why not? It captured the essence of that Disney era. The wonderful hand-drawn animation filled with personified animals and a fun adventure. Most importantly, the creation of a classic Disney villain. Cruella de Vil with her lanky build accentuated by her oversized fur coat, cigarette holder, and black and white hair could only be the villain of a Disney story. On the outside, she is the quintessential English fashion Icon, yet her obsession with dalmatian fur makes her villainy much more grounded in reality. Cruella de Vil represented the exploitation of animals far before the establishment of PETA or the hip coolness of vegan diets. She is one of the only Disney villains you could cross paths with on the street.
I'm sure that was the reason for an exploration of her before her bloodthirsty quest for black and white polka-dotted fur. Disney's Cruella was a bit of a surprise announcement at the 2019 D23 Expo. A backstory for a celebrated but seemingly forgotten villain wasn't high on the lists for many Disney fans. Yet, I was immediately intrigued because I knew Disney would be far less constrained by an old story. They had established characters and infinite narrative possibilities.
So what did we get? Unsurprisingly, we get a film oozing with style. Early summer films rarely get remembered around awards season, but Cruella is such a stand-out in the Costumes, makeup, and set design department that It is hard to foresee Disney not campaigning this film this winter. The film immerses its viewers into the posh London fashion scene of the 1970s with sets that rival any stuffy classical British fare. From start to finish, the film is incredible to look at and thankfully a lot of fun to get invested in.
Emma Stone is expectedly good here. She gives the title character more depth than I could have ever imagined. Even when the script doesn't live up to her performance, Stone is able to handle the load. There are many times where the character's ticks or motivations such as multi-personality disorder aren't explained well, but Stone and the film's villain played by Emma Thompson manage to steal the show whenever either of them is on screen.
The film includes tons of throwbacks for fans of the source material. We get origin stories for Roger, the main human character of the cartoon, and even Cruella's cronies Horace and Jasper. Paul Walter Hauser and his little furry friend steal the show as the film's main source of comedic relief and the relationship Cruella builds with the two make it a far more endearing film than I ever could have expected.
Yet, I am hard-pressed to say who this film is for. At nearly 2 and half hours, the film is far too long and dark for young children. Who along with their parents, will be this film's biggest moneymaker. Yet, like with Pirates of the Caribbean, the film seems like Disney's attempt to appeal to an older crowd. I don't think Cruella will be nearly as successful as Pirates, but it does capture that same fun adventure energy that made Pirates a success almost two decades ago. Finally, I think the film does try just a bit too much narratively. That doesn't surprise me considering its runtime, but trying to pay homage to The Devil Wears Prada, heist films and even superhero films like Joker all in one runtime may make your head spin.
Cruella doesn't always work, but I would much rather see Disney take big swings like this instead of trying to retread a successful IP for money. I know money makes Hollywood go around, but Cruella is an example of how even the biggest studios can use their own Intellectual Property to break new ground, even if it is sandwiched between The Lion King and whatever live-action remake comes next.
Paul Deeter's Review of Cruella
I enter this piece as a fan of the film, although it wasn't until reading this review that I decided it was a film worth seeking out. Tyler and I don't share exactly the same interests and do have some prickly arguments from time to time about our favorite and least favorite films per year. However, with his positivity, shared with the solid audience feedback of 97% from over 2,500 Rotten Tomatoes reviewers, I simply could not resist seeking out this weird, but wonderfully chaotic film. I'll mention that some of the points Tyler brought up are actually spot on to my own thoughts. First and foremost is an issue I've grappled with, who is this movie for?
Well outside of myself and Tyler apparently, the movie does have quite the fanbase if the audience consensus is any show for it. In fact on Instagram, a lot of my friends and followers are simply gaga for this flick. But the movie, with a Disney label stamped on it, can easily be interpreted as a potential kids film. Edgy, but for kids and parents like some of the newer live action films that have emerged from Disney recently. But this isn't a kids movie, and I don't think it's even a movie kids will tolerate at all. I do give kids a quality credit, not every elementary aged youngin is gonna be enraptured by potty humor or cheap gags. That being said, the humor here is very... strange. I went to a half-filled showing on Memorial Day, which would be an appropriate day to fill an audience, and the few kids that were there seemed, a bit quiet. There were a few physical humor gags that hit, and I think Tyler and I agree that the movie benefits from its pups. The one-eyed chihuahua Wink was my favorite, and I've since quoted the Horace line "I'm gonna kiss you straight on the mouth, I don't care where that mouth's been!!" The dogs add an element of audience appeal, but is it enough to win over mass-audiences?
I think the major crowd for this movie has to be attributed to the alternative-edged Hot Topic sort of teenagers, so much so that branding for shirts and toys will do it well in favor of income. I think also the movie has a strong smell of "cult sensation" to it. There's a lot to love, but it may take some time for people to digest it, and its yes too-long narrative. I know Tyler and I have mentioned this in comment, but it needs to be said in the context of this piece that Craig Gillespie is a really odd duck when it comes to filmmaking. I think we both appreciate his body of work, but it's quite erratic. Mr. Woodcock as a kind of raunchy comedy entry, Lars and the Real Girl can be seen as a psychological character study and then I, Tonya (his most acclaimed work) is really a bit of a crime re-telling. I do love his work, but his style adopts a faux-Scorcese style, right down to a redo of the Copacabana sequence in Goodfellas as we get a single shot movement through a department store.
It's in this Scorcese-appreciative style that we get the SO GOOD soundtrack of the film. A mix of Brit-pop, late 60's, early 70's and all bangers, these songs don't seem to stop. The start of the movie sets off the tunes, and the songs go all out until the final-fitting end-credits recreation of her original animated anthem. The best utilization of hard-hitting soundtrack moments with killer costuming and visual design comes together when a character named Artie (the first openly gay character in a Disney film, noted) sings Iggy Pop's "I Wanna Be Your Dog" to an impromptu fashion show of Cruella's in a color-washed London park. I cannot stress enough how killer this scene was in setting the bar as high as possible for Cruella's style. I think the movie peaked in this sequence. While it's audience can be ambiguous, this scene hits hard for me, and I believe others will appreciate the absolute audacity on display here too.
I'm not sure how I'd put this film on a letter-grade scale, or a star-rating. I don't really like to rank or put films on lists in general, and I think this is a case that I can't really pinpoint any grade on this film. I think I try to write reviews that level out the strengths and weaknesses of each movie, and I prefer my readers to digest the words I write over any grade I stamp on a movie. I was very surprised by Cruella. I think it will be a divisive film for some, while it will find a home maybe years on, but it's a nice gamble and solid decision by the company. I agree with Tyler that a re-imagining is a solid choice over remake. And I wouldn't say no to a Cruella 2. Hopefully, Disney uses this opportunity to make more chances like this. Time will tell.