Describe This Movie In One Reservoir Dogs Quote:
MR. BLONDE: Are you gonna bark all day little doggie? Or are you gonna bite?
Brief Plot Synopsis: London's fashion scene is all bark, some bite.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 3.5 pairs of albino African endangered rhino slippers out of 5.
Tagline: "Hello cruel world."
Better Tagline: "We're Disney: give us enough time and we'll make John Wayne Gacy sympathetic."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Ostracized from a young age because of her interesting hair and iconoclastic views, Estella (Emma Stone) finds herself alone in London after her mother's untimely death. Her talent for fashion design leads to a job with the Baroness (Emma Thompson), but their relationship sours when the Baroness steals her designs, leading Estella to adopt a new persona. Naming herself "Cruella," she sets out to dethrone her one-time mentor.
"Critical" Analysis: You may think it's kind of weird to give an origin story to the canine-flaying villain of a Disney movie, but is it? They did it before with two Maleficent movies and the Descendants franchise. If Cruella is a hit, expect new flicks telling us Gaston was bullied as a toddler and the Big Bad Wolf grew up in an animal shelter.
But even those two didn't have the "puppy skinning" thing hanging over them. How the hell does Disney, of all companies, make that particular ... idiosyncrasy palatable to audiences? Many of whom will presumably be children?
Simple; they ignore it.
Director Craig Gillespie is previously known for having helmed such decidedly non-kid friendly fare as Lars and the Real Girl and the Fright Night remake. He's joined by screenwriters Dana Fox and Tony McNamara. Fox brings extensive experience in rom-coms, while McNamara co-wrote caustic palace intrigue (and Emma Stone vehicle) The Favourite. Again, it's an interesting flex for a Disney movie.
A Disney movie that, at times, strains to be anything but. The overstuffed soundtrack features cuts like "The Wizard" (Black Sabbath), "Five to One" (The Doors), and a pretty rad cover of "I Wanna Be Your Dog." It's unlikely to be replicated in any movie bearing Walt's name, unless they hire Oliver Stone.
But aside from the Suicide Squad-level musical saturation and the '70s London setting, the story is mostly a punk rock version of The Devil Wears Prada (without the needy dickhead boyfriend) with a little Zorro the Gay Blade thrown in. Only instead of shrinking violet Anne Hathaway, you've got Stone as a kind of Vivienne Westwood figure.
Really, the most unrealistic aspect is how no one in London — in the 1970s — smokes. That's PG-13 for you.
We also need to take a minute to acknowledge how fantastic Emma Thompson is in this. The Baroness is a withering, mirror dimension Miss Money-Sterling, and is a crucial factor in Cruella's success. Success which owes much to Stone, as well. She throws herself into a role that, while toothsome to be sure, lacked fertile ground after Betty Lou Gerson's performance in the 1961 original and those two Glenn Close ... efforts.
So in one sense, Cruella *is* an origin story, in that it charts the rise of a young woman navigating a heavily stylized fantasy fashion realm. Estella/Cruella grows as a character, and while she does make a dog coat joke to henchman Jasper's (Joel Fry) horror, she only kidnaps her first batch of Dalmatians because one swallowed her mother's necklace. And instead of cutting the dog open to retrieve it, she instructs Jasper and Horace to, uh, await its foundation.
But in the end, she's really no closer to 1961's dog murderer than she was at the beginning. And honestly, kicking that can down the road is probably a smart move (Stone and Thompson said they want the next movie to be like Godfather 2, so there's that). It still makes the mid-credits scene (which you might be able to cheat out from certain characters' names) even more nonsensical.
Maybe it's enough that Cruella is fun to look at and coasts by on great performances, even if it occasionally tries too hard. And if it offends Disney purists, so much the better.
Cruella is in select theaters and streaming on Disney+ today.
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