Disney’s current cash cow plan of retelling tales as old as time (from the 60s onward) with fares like Pete’s Dragon to Beauty & The Beast seems to be garnering them a tidy sum, though at the expense of storytelling and film direction quality. The recent retelling of Mulan in 2020 is just above average, but that’s being generous knowing that Disney studios can do so much better.
The retelling of 101 Dalmatian’s key villainess, Cruella de Vil, is the origin story and reboot of the classic animated film that forcibly adds in references and callbacks for the sake of nostalgia pandering rather than meaningful story substance. The first 15 minutes features the unintentionally silly scene as to why Cruella is traumatized by dalmatians; the other nods and old film storyline tie-ins do not gel really well here.
Dog Day Afternoon
It’s a pity too because the film does look good and is slick with most of its editing and direction, letting its plot of Cruella/Estella (Emma Stone) going from rags to riches while also one-upping her mentor-slash-antagonist The Baroness (Emma Thompson) just unfold with its good performances. Both Stone and Thompson are darlings to watch on-screen as usual. The overall plot is also decently paced too were it not for the forced callbacks.
At the very least, director Craig Gillespie made the film a lovely treat for the eyes with its various shots and even accentuating the key scenes of Estella using her
Joker Cruella persona to troll The Baroness’ fashion work mid-film. This is the guy who made the story of ice skater Tonya Harding a lovely treat to spectate, so of course he’s up to the task of making a standard Disney retelling a bit more pleasant to the eyes than the rest of the heap.
Cruella is a fine and decently polished-up film that’s meant for its current Disney revisionist fanbase who want to see heroic streaks out of their classic villains. We’re basically in a world where giving established antagonists who are evil for the sake of it will not fly; like as if we need the aforementioned callbacks forced into their characters and plot development. As a result, the film suffers from just being a simple tale of a seemingly meek person breaking out with her persona against all odds. Why can’t our anti-heroine just have a maniacal laugh and black/white hair because she just does, instead of having some needless backstory and unnecessary plot detail to fill up that seemingly empty lore gap?
Long story short: stay for the quick thrills, and nothing more. And also wince at the obvious soundtrack choices that are clearly trying show that the film is “with the times”.