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.