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MOVIES: Cruella - Review

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Cruella raises many questions as the latest live-action Disney flick arrives in cinemas and on Disney+ with a premium access if you’re willing to fork out the rather expensive premium access fee for what is essentially a remake of Todd Phillips’ Joker, instead shining the spotlight on the iconic Disney villain from beloved classic 101 Dalmatians, played by Emma Stone, who gives it her all and really drifts into the multifaceted role with relative ease – it’s another winning performance even if the rest of the movie doesn’t quite hold up to standard.

There’s a lot of good ideas at the heart of Cruella, a Phantom Thread/Ocean’s Eleven-type heist movie set in ‘60s and ‘70s London using the fashion scene as a backdrop set to a punk rock, rebellious soundtrack where two fashion icons go to war against one another? It had me hooked as a premise – but it falls short on execution, what we get instead turns out to be all style and no substance – the song choices from start to finish are the most obvious song choices imaginable, incredibly groan-worthy, there is not one original pick for a needle drop in the entire length of the movie and the final one in particular, combined with the sequence leading up to it, makes Han Solo getting his surname in Solo: A Star Wars Story look like multi-layered, subtle storytelling genius in comparison, everything here just plays it too safe and it’s a victim of not wanting to take any risks or creativity in the storytelling process: Cruella just adds up to a complete and total disappointment at almost every level outside of the solid performances from Emma Thompson and Emma Stone.

The need to make villains sympathetic as of late harms Cruella rather than hurts it, especially with late game storytelling decisions that overcomplicate rather than benefit. There are elements to succeed and I do love the vivid imagery and the rebellious rock aesthetic that utilises the backdrop of the time period, but it all feels too artificial and fake – like the director, Craig Gillespie, responsible for films like I, Tonya in the past, is far more interested in getting to the next music video montage than actually telling a story that dares to offer any kind of surprise or even heart, everything here feels like a collaboration of multiple different films with nothing original to say.

It’s a capitalist-safe take on a descent into madness storyline that feels halted rather than enabled by it, Cruella doesn’t take any risks and goes for the safest route at every turn – there’s not even a hint at ambiguity surrounding Cruella and the sympathy for her character doesn’t feel earned or complex so you’re just left wondering why they bothered with it at all. For a prequel about a puppy-killer you almost expect Cruella to be more daring like its protagonist so aspires to be, but whenever there’s room for potential conflict the film does its best to sidestep, acting as a sure-fire Oscar nomination for costume designer Jenny Beavan even if it in turn doesn’t give her creations the full attention that they deserve. The set locations don’t fare much better however, everything feels hollow and fake – London doesn’t feel real, speaking as a resident – the streets are far too empty – and the need to insert every landmark in the city does it no favours.

At the end of the day, you know what you’re going to get from a Disney blockbuster movie and its eat the rich undertones are far too thin due to its nature as a cog in the corporate machine to have any substance – and the whole thing is a breezy, hollow affair that you’ll most likely have forgotten by the time you get home from the cinema. If you’re in the UK and are near a cinema that’s showing it and want to watch a Disney movie – please go and see Raya and the Last Dragon instead, you’ll have a much better experience.

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