A wayward young woman yearns to become a fashion icon in Cruella.
Young Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) is the epitome of a brilliant child lacking a properly cultivated outlet for her unbridled creativity. Her doting mother (Emily Beecham) does all that she can to help, but her meager means leaves few effective options.
When the pair’s prospects seem at their lowest, tragedy strikes. Estella turns to a life of crime to survive. In the midst of her felonious forays, the now-older young woman (Emma Stone) is transfixed by the world of fashion and its most successful leader, The Baroness (Emma Thompson). Determined to forge a new path, Estella sets her sights on becoming a major player in the world of high-end couture, only to run headlong into an unforeseen, unavoidable and unforgettable distraction.
This is the latest film in Disney‘s continued effort to morph animated classics into live-action fare, for better (Enchanted) or worse (Dumbo). It’s also the second time that they’ve mined the live-action depths of the animated original after 1996’s 101 Dalmatians with Glenn Close playing the lead villain. This latest effort leaves little leeway in avoiding direct comparisons to 2019’s superhero film Joker. Disney takes a character so loathsome that her personality is right there in her name, but gives us an origin story that transforms the hideous into the heroine. In an age of understanding, we’re compelled to sympathize with her plight and to accept that she really isn’t responsible for her evildoing actions.
The overall story arc is surprisingly dark, especially coming from Disney. The visuals are both spectacular and intense, which is a perfect fit for a film so enveloped by endless bolts of colorful fabrics and styles. It puts us front and center in a dreamlike world filled with endless stimuli. It completes the effect with the best soundtrack since Guardians of the Galaxy. The decades-spanning hits guarantee that you’ll be toe-tapping and thigh-slapping your way through much of the film.
The real challenge is the monotone presentation of the plot. Stone and Thompson give us memorable performances, but with a script that’s at times both brilliant and bland. The dialogue and presentation would make for a masterpiece at 90 minutes, but strains to keep us engaged at 134.
All of its visual splendor and sharp, witty repartee still can’t mask the omnipresent, mallet-like messaging. Apparently, the idea of a truly evil, truly reviled character is no longer a thing. Underneath it all, there’s just a tormented child screaming out to be loved. Gag. Disney’s Imagineers are incredible. Disney’s Reimagineers? Not so much.
It’s a rare thing to walk out of a film thinking, “Boy, I hope that this character goes full Hannibal Lecter in the next installment.” There’s nothing that says that you can’t take all of the amazing pieces of this effort and combine them with an antagonist whom we fully despise. The combination strikes me as downright deVilish.