‘Cruella’ Shines In Style But Spotty On Substance

I never really was a fan of the 101 Dalmations, even though it’s obvious Cruella De Vil stands out both in the animated and live-action movies as the most memorable character of all time. I can’t even name one of the other characters, but Cruella was also memorable. Glenn Close dialed it up in a role that was borderline overacting and brilliant.

Actors sometimes have a hard time trying to play antagonists in family movies. I noticed how the actors in the Paddington movies such as Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant and even Brendan Gleeson were able to play their roles so effectively and you see they are having a lot of fun doing it.

Cruella has a villainous character and it isn’t the titular character. No, it’s The Baroness, played by Emma Thompson but we’ll get to that later.

Following the origins of Cruella, we see she was once Estella Miller, a young girl of a single mother who was constantly getting in trouble at school because she wouldn’t confirm to the standards expected of young women in the United Kingdom in the post-WWII era. The Headmaster of the school goes overboard with blots on her permanent record. Her hairstyle or color of half white and half black is the subject of constant bullying.

Expelled, Estella’s mother, Catherine (Emily Beecham), take them to an aristocratic mansion where Estella is supposed to stay in the car, but leaves when she sees a fashion show party is going on. She is discovered by a mysterious man, John (Mark Strong) and then her and her dog, Buddy, are chased by three Dalmatians who accidentally knock Catherine off a cliff to her death. Catherine was speaking to a person at the mansion who plays the victim that she was being threatened by Catherine.

On the run, Estella and Buddy go to London where they meet two young street urchins, Jasper and Horace, and team up. Estella dyes her hair red and the movie jumps 10 years to the 1970s London punk scene where Estella (Emma Stone), Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) are now working as petty criminals.

Estella gets a job at the Liberty department store but only in janitorial before she assembles a store display that attracts the eye of the Baroness. Here’s where the movie falls apart. Thompson’s performance is just wrong. The Baroness is a caricature that has been done before and done better.

And here’s where the movie turns into a long string of montages set to music of the time as Estella works for The Baroness, a top fashion designer, but secretly invents Cruella, who wows the fashion world.

Yes, the movie does have a lot of fashion styles and set designs that are wonderful to look at, but the plot is lacking and long. A character like The Baroness might exist in a cartoon, but she’s way too violent and ill-tempered to exist in real life with the absurd way portrayed without being a psychopath.

And there are what 400-500 Barons and Baroness in the U.K.? The way the Baroness is treated as if she is a heartbeat away from taking the Queen’s seat at Buckingham Palace. It gets to the point where the Baroness has her goons try to kill Estella/Cruella in a building fire, the movie has gone too dark.

It’s rated PG-13 and like The Pirates of the Caribbean movies, it does push the envelope. Considering that during the 1970s, Disney was making movies with Kurt Russell as a college kid who becomes strong or invisible through scientific experiments, this is for older tweens and teens.

I’m not saying Disney can’t make dark movies. Part of their problems are they’re still making movies where teens are “out of control,” but in real life, it would be normal teenage behavior.

The plot of 101 Dalmatians is a woman wanting to make clothing out of dogs, even though I think it was showing us how fur coats and mink stoles are made from murdered animals. A character training her dogs to kill in a cartoon is okay. A character who trains her dogs to kill in a movie is a hard pill to swallow as we’re suppose to enjoy it.

I also couldn’t shake the fact the Baroness is no different than people calling 911 wanting police and law enforcement to beat or even shoot BIPOC for being at a Starbucks, selling lemonade, or trying to barbecue in the park. Maybe that was the intention of the filmmakers but for a movie geared at young people, I think it’s a bit much.

Also, some of the scenes are too darkly lit, I couldn’t see what was happening. If it wasn’t for Stone’s narration, I wouldn’t be able to tell what’s going on.

While I do think it’s great the movie is featured during a fascinating time in London both in music and fashion, the movie doesn’t have much punk music to it. What little there is the generic music from the era often shown in other movies. The Clash has one song on the soundtrack, but not one song by The Sex Pistols is featured. I give kudos for John Cale’s “I Want To Be Your Dog”

Stone does a good job as Cruella and you can see that she manages to make her British accent look authentic. But Hauser’s accent is hard to listen to. He’s trying to channel the late Bob Hoskins and you can tell.

While Disney will probably be schmoozing Oscar voters for costume and set design nominations, they should also ask them to consider Stone for Best Actress. She had two roles in this movie and she plays them well. She knows how to do comedy.

Thompson on the other hand is a disappointment. But I think it’s more of script issues. Thompson is a great actress herself and can do comedy very well. The movie sets up a sequel that she may re-appear in. I just hope they give her better material.

And I do think a sequel might follow in the vein of Toy Story 2 or Paddington 2 as being better than the first one. This is a origin story and usually the sequels are better. I just hope the filmmakers know to keep it short and sweet. This movie is over two hours without credits.

Another positive thing about this movie is a disclaimer at the end reminding people to adopt rescue dogs from shelters. This is because of backlash from the live-action movies as some animals rights activists were reporting parents were buying their kids Dalmatian puppies for Christmas but leaving them at shelters once they got bigger.

You should adopt instead of shopping. I also think the movie paints a message that dogs aren’t bad but forced to be aggressive by people.

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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