The question must be asked “Did anybody really want, or care, to know the history of the evil woman who wanted to skin dogs?” It’s certainly an odd character to base a Disney film around. It’s true that the best villains have more depth than just the evil pumping through their veins. They’re relatable and their intentions are understandable, misguided as they may be. Look at Darth Vader, Nurse Ratched and Hannibal Lecter. So, maybe there is an interesting story to be told here… Or perhaps, and more likely, Disney is once again revisiting their animated lineup for a quick and profitable live action turn around.
From beginning to end Cruella is an odd mash up of genres and tones. At times taking itself deathly serious; other times coming across as cartoonish and silly. It’s definitely an ambitious film. Far more ambitious than adaptions like The Lion King, which just recreate the same story. What made this film so frustrating were the moments of greatness sprinkled throughout an otherwise predictable and mundane story.
Emma Stone and Emma Thompson are both fantastic actresses and their talent is on full display. Stone does a great job with what she’s given. She brings the evil, fashion obsessed Cruella to life for a new generation to fear. Although, her accent never quite comes across as natural, she looks stunning in the role. Thompson shines with her typical dry wit and authoritarian demeanor. However, the true stand out is Paul Walter Hauser as Horace. Both Horace and Jasper, Cruella’s bumbling henchmen from the original animated classic, play vital roles in the film. Hauser, best known for his breakout role in Richard Jewell, brings the character of Horace to life with the perfect amount of dimwitted comedic charm.
The visuals of the film are striking, playing into the film’s animated roots and mixing them with the real world. The colors of black and white are utilized throughout. Representative of Cruella’s duality. Her good side and her bad side. Yin and Yang. And of course, representative of Dalmatians.
Although the film is primarily a drama, it succeeds with some solid comedic timing. There are more than one genuinely funny moments. Stone is at her best in these moments and it’s easy to see why she got her start in comedy. However, while the film succeeds in some regards, it falls flat in many others.
Remember that scene in Solo: A Star Wars Story when the origin of Han Solo’s name was revealed and everybody in the audience rolled their eyes? Cruella is filled with moments like that. The film is desperate to provide answers to questions we did not have. To validate its existence. When the film is silly, it’s absurd. The lack of continuity in tone makes the film nearly impossible to fully delve into. I found myself questioning who this movie was made for. With a PG-13 rating the film felt too adult or boring for younger audiences at moments. At other moments it felt overly cartoonish.
The film falls into a weird limbo like territory between failure and success. At moments it howls. However, it’s quickly silenced through the sharp shock of a bark collar. Perhaps though, the film will open the door to stories of more interesting Disney villains, of which there are many. With a runtime of over two hours the film is a commitment for younger viewers and they may struggle to stay entertained. Unfortunately, the same could be said for adult viewers, as well. 6/10