When I heard Disney was once again exploiting their rich history with Cruella, I thought the same as Brenda from Bristol in 2017. “You’re joking! Not another one!” (Click here to watch her glorious reaction to another general election.) But that’s cynical old me. I assumed this was indeed another one of Disney’s incessant attempts to remake existing IPs instead of using their creativity. But (and I hate to admit it)… I was wrong.
This isn’t just another remake. This is solid proof Disney can reuse their past, but must inject originality. Cruella is an outstanding example of how to avoid repeatedly making uninspiring remakes.
I never thought I’d say, “Imagine The Devil Wears Prada meets Joker,” but that’s more or less what this is. A fashion-obsessed young girl wants to excel in the stylish world of fashion while becoming increasingly disenfranchised and angry, causing her to descend into ‘evil’ (of sorts, at least).
The problem is, these are profoundly different films and, although they work well together sometimes, this film is too long. The middle meanders far too much and could definitely have been trimmed to a tight, enjoyable 90 minutes. Instead, Cruella outstays its welcome with a runtime of over 2 hours. Some scenes could be cut outright, such as a speech announcing her plans after she discovers who she really is after a ‘twist’. This twist is marginally irritating and follows the trend of everything having to be personal and connected (the same frustrating thread in Once Upon a Time–though still a cracking show).
But the Prada/ Joker mix-up works well in summing up the original character of Cruella. She is a fashion-obsessed woman bitter at the world that drives her to commit evil acts. It’s this element that’s strengthened by the setting. Whilst they could have had a modern-day setting or one more accurate to the book or film, but they chose for late 60s/ 70s era; a time when London saw the pinnacle of fashion and rise of punk rock. This iteration of Cruella is a perfect amalgamation of the two–a stylish fashionista propagating the punk rock movement. In fact, this setting is almost a character itself and strengthens the film.
But what else do we associate with the 70s and punk rock? The music–and, boy, is there a lot (almost too much?). Sometimes the film seems jarringly close to a jukebox musical or a tribute to an era of music. But when they fit the film and the character so perfectly, it’s hard to complain. We get a killer soundtrack that gives the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy a run for its money. I wish that composer Nicholas Britell had a chance to make more of the original score and give her a well-deserved theme tune. Perhaps one other than the usual melody we already know.
Speaking of the original theme, we don’t hear it much and thank goodness! Fortunately, they avoid the temptation to include too many ridiculous ‘Easter eggs’ and nods to the original (think of the gratuitous C-3PO and R2-D2 cameo in Rogue One). There are some I rolled my eyes at though. For example, including Roger and Anita are unnecessary. Roger has almost no importance and Anita is confined to an unwarranted Lois Lane role. Their only benefit is the satisfying post-credit scene, a blatant (albeit delightful) nod to the original. I only hope this doesn’t turn into a disappointing set-up for a sequel…
Still, I wouldn’t be against seeing Emma Stone pick up the De Vil mantle again. She might be too young to make a convincing Cruella, her British accent (while passable) is a little shaky, and she’s too likable to be a villain per se. I’m not a fan of the over-the-top “pantomimey”, villainous aura she conveys. But on the whole I enjoyed watching her play her part with such joie de vivre. It’s hard not to be seduced into rooting for her (which is what you want from an anti-hero).
Although I rolled my eyes at their appearance at first, Jasper and Horace worked well and were sometimes even scene-stealers! Well, them and Wink the dog of course. At least they had a role integral to the story, unlike Roger and Anita. Mark Strong also has a good impact, though he comes across as somewhat more villainous and intimidating than the real bad guy.
And that real bad guy is the secret weapon to the entire movie. People may say that this is Emma’s film–and I agree… only Emma Thompson’s film. Let’s be honest–Emma Thompson is the ideal Cruella De Vil in terms of voice, age, demeanour and the pure malevolence she can evoke with a glance. A perfect blend of Miranda Priestly and a Shakespearean villain, she steals the show. Thompson clearly has the time of her life, sneering at everyone, popping champagne corks into faces and tasering her bodyguards. As much fun as she is, I feel we’re missing out on a better iteration of Cruella De Vil, but at least having her as The Baroness is a joy.
I’m glad I was wrong about this film. It’s definitely worth it and is solid proof that Disney revisiting the past isn’t always a recipe for disaster. With a little artistic licence, imagination and originality, Disney should be proud of their heritage and pay tribute to it with films like this. Not remakes like… well, pick your choice! Low expectations turned high opinions–a resounding success from Disney; so please keep it up!