Since Disney started to put out more and more remakes of beloved animated classics, it can be easy to forget that during 1996 the very first one came out. “101 Dalmatians” was not very well received by critics or audiences but left some memorable impressions; like Glenn Close’s portrayal of the infamous Cruella Devil. This over the top villain had maintained most of her identity as one of the most fierce Disney villains in her live-action appearance and the influence of her animated incarnation was crystal clear. As time went on Disney reignited the remake fire, and Miss Devil was reforged a second time. Sadly this time around she lost a bit more of her original self.
The film follows the semi-tragic life of a young girl named Estella, who after some terrible circumstances befriends a couple of street boys named Jasper and Horace. They grow up together, leaving life as petty thieves until Estella manages to get noticed by the Baroness, an eccentric, cold blooded fashion designer. While Estella works for The Baroness, she finds out more about her past; a process that awakens a ruthless new persona hidden inside of her. Emma Stone does a great job as the titular character, successfully grounding the outlandish actions and outfits of Cruella into the movie’s setting. Emma Thompson shines as the vicious Baronnes. Her performance maintains that sweet spot of the famous villain that you love to hate. Cunning and vengeful, this character fits so perfectly in this world that actually it can become a bit of a problem. Even though Cruella has a narrative arc that does depict her decline into a more unstable person, she is not able to become the villain of the story. Disney shows a lack of spine by trying way too hard to conserve its family friendly policy. By the ending, the stage seems set to watch the birth of the classic puppy-killing monster that we all love to hate (even if it is done abruptly); only to end up with a sympathetic personal motive for the main character that does nothing even close to despicable. All of this becomes even more evident when she is constantly outstaged in the villain department by her own boss. The Baroness genuinely thrives with each layer of pain that causes other people while justifying those actions as a way to maintain herself at the top of the fashion and business food chain. As a result, her motives might hit a relatable note without losing sight of the truly hideous human she is; which (with a little more work) could have been an amazing arc for Cruella herself.
Besides the narrative sacrifices Disney made to make the main character fit the mold of a modern DIsney protagonist, the movie flows surprisingly well for a 135 minute film. Even though the passing could have been adjusted to fit the 2 hour mark, the scenes go by fast and the amount of events the movie goes through are a lot without ever becoming exhausting. The side characters and the humor they periodically provide are also a big help. Cute mascots and strong friendships bring joy that made every antic the group tried to pull off a fun ride. Accompanying the main characters we find an impressive costume design that enhances every single shot without ever feeling out of place inside of the world created. The entire film conveys through set design, wardrobe and even (sometimes) shot composition how the look and feel of a character or a location can transport the audience into the scene. On the other hand, music does not feel quite as fitting as the visual look. Although some songs hit the mark and help a scene, the movie starts to overstay their welcome by playing them on top of many scenes and little montages of insignificant events; losing the impact of the moments where the big plot develops or turns on its head.
To sum up, Cruella is a perfectly innocent film that will entertain most audiences. The proper use of cinematography combined with a great work in the art department gives the film a lovely look. On top of that, performances are mostly good with both Emmas standing out as the main forces of conflict. The soundtrack starts out okay but quickly becomes invasive and even tiresome. Finally, it is truly a shame that this film is forced to turn the beloved Disney villain into a less and less devilish person to the point where she becomes a sort of noble (almost heroic) figure. The saddest part is to see that most of the right elements needed to bring the authentic Cruella to life are here, just never in the right place; now that truly is cruel.