Monday, November 8, 2021

Disney Watch: Cruella (2021)

Watched:  11/06/2021
Format:  Disney+ in JAL's yard
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2020's
Director:  Craig Gillespie

We got together with JAL and Co to watch a movie projected on the big screen in his backyard.  With a kid in play, and because we're highly likely to watch PG movies anyway, we defaulted to a family-friendly suggestion of Cruella (2021), which received weirdly inconsistent reviews and reaction on social media from what I saw, to the point where people seemed to be watching 2 or more different movies, which was enough to make me curious.  

I've not been overly interested in Disney's live-action remakes or prequels, and so had made no special effort to see Cruella upon it's release.  I like 101 Dalmatians (the animated version) well enough, but mostly out of nostalgia and loving the character animation more than me thinking it's the world's best film.  And I wasn't overly concerned about who Cruella De Vil was and how she came to be.

But, you know, I'm game for whatever.

I... loved this movie?  

Honestly, I'd had a few cocktails, but there wasn't two minutes of this film where I wasn't kind of delighted.  I did not know until right before we watched the movie that it was directed by the same guy who did I, Tonya, Craig Gillespie, which I recall had a similar lack of cohesive consensus surrounding not just the story but the manner in which the Oscar nominated film was told.  And I respect other people's takes, but if they didn't like I, Tonya, they've chosen poorly.

It's really a remarkable bit of character driven plot, mixing comedy and some drama.  And, maybe most impressively, puts Cruella in the protagonist's chair but never states that she's misunderstood or we always had her wrong.  She's a bit of a psychopath.  And this is, arguably, a kid's film.  Which pits psychopath versus psychopath.  It's a really weird sell that I suspect in 15 years will have kids talking about this film and saying to each other "man, can you believe that was in a kids movie?"  Frankly, I can't believe Disney looked at this and was like "y'okay.  Here's 100's of millions of dollars for your movie."

My memory is that a lot of reviews got hung up on the period and fashion which drives everything and maybe thought that's all that the movie offered and - that's a really dumb take.   I get why the script places the events in the 60's through the end of swinging London, birth of punk, era of glam.  There's a lot going on here as generations butt heads, establishments falter and a mix of foppish glam mixed with what would become the torn and spiked look of punk coalescing by 1975.  But all of that is the struts the story hangs on as establishment psychopath is pitted against scrappy from-the-streets psychopath.  

The movie is very, very much a villain origin story.  She is not a hero in the film, she's a protagonist and just like the movie promised -  showing how we got there is not the same as showing a plucky hero with a heart of gold defeating evil.  She is, at the end, usurping evil and happens to have used her villainy to thwart a different villain.  

It's worth noting - Cruella does take a life to achieve her goals.  She sacrifices Estella, the persona which has kept her in check.  Cruella and Estella are not the same person, and what we have by film's end is Cruella unbridled, which opens the door to all sorts of things.  What would drive her now to want to make actual Dalmatian coats?  I cannot say.  But I also believe she's ruthlessness enough to do it by film's end.  

That Disney is canny enough to know they can make bank on and potential Cruella 2 to fill in that gap is not really a problem of *this* film, which doesn't quite take Cruella to the point of mass puppy murder.  And, you know, this is a kid's film at the end of the day - so maybe not murdering dogs in this thing is a-ok.  What we get from this film is both the degradation of her consideration and concern of others and the blind-to-all-else drive bursting at the seems that has the potential for genuine cruelty.

I know 101 Dalmatians well enough that the film's nods to the original often left me cackling.  Emma Stone's posture while driving what would become the patented De Vil-mobile that we'd come to know in the cartoon is there!  The origin of her calling Horace and Jasper "imbeciles!" repeatedly.  First sight of Hell Hall (which will also need to go into decline in a potential sequel).  

Stone herself showed up in films ready to be a star, and she's really pretty fantastic here in a "I shall gnaw on ALL the scenery" sort of way.  Casting her opposite Thompson is a kick, and Thompson is clearly enjoying the living hell out of playing a cartoon villain herself, from the narcissistic glory-claiming boss to the nut who sics dogs on women seeking her help.  And both look *marvelous* in every shot.  

The movie gives us many of the supporting human characters that appear in 101 Dalmatians, not least of which are Horace and Jasper, perhaps answering the question:  now WHY do these two guys stay in Cruella's employ when she's so mean to them?  Well - they've got history!  And, of course, Anita and Roger.

I cannot imagine how much of the cost of the film went to wardrobe, design, art direction, etc...  not to mention the musical selections.  

The film isn't critic proof.  I did glance at a few things when I noted the high audience scores and lower critical scores.  But I also think much of what I saw critics going at was debatable or ignored the clear narrative trajectory here that is going to insist on a sequel or two.

I don't know if the movie needs to exist, or if Cruella needs any explanation, but if you're going to do it, at least do it in style and make it entertaining, and this movie does in spades.  Or... spots.

No comments: