We have seen more than a dozen Disney live-action remakes in the past 10 years, including Beauty and the Beast, Vicious, Mary Poppins, Dumbo, The Lion King, and “Mulan”.
“Cruella” is the latest live-action version, but this dark origins story isn’t your typical Disney tariff.
Rated PG-13 and with a running time of 2 hours and 14 minutes, this is not the one that makes the small tikes see, especially on the big screen. In fact, I’m not sure who the target audience for this is, with its traumatic and tragic beginnings and twisted finale to play out for the subsequent stories in the film.
We meet Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland, plays the young version of the character) – who later transforms into Cruella (Emma Stone) – as a teenager who shows even on the day of her birth that she is not like everyone else.
With hair evenly split on each side, light and dark, similar to the personality of this character, little Estella and her mother live a humble life. Estella proves that behavior cannot be taken for granted as she tries to follow her cute mother’s advice to be kind and get along with others.
She is lively, refutes all the rules and does not hesitate to throw the first blow. But after witnessing the death of her mother, Estella – now an orphan – has to develop street arts and educate herself thanks to the Baroness (Emma Thompson) indictment against the Dalmatians … with a little help from her new found friends Jasper (Ziggy) Gardner) and Horace (Joseph MacDonald).
After a very drawn out childhood story, we are finally catapulted into the 1970s when Estella, an aspiring seamstress, accidentally finds her way into the baroness’s couture clothing company. She stands out from her competition and works her way from coffee runner to ball gown designer.
But when Estella learns more about the dirty story between the baroness and her mother, she discovers that an internal switch has been thrown and that her goal in life is to kill the baroness. With smart planning and two lackeys ready to obey any instruction, Estella becomes Cruella in search of sweet revenge.
“Cruella” has so many flaws in the story design, despite its beautiful costume and production design that has established itself as the forerunner of all other Cruella stories known to us, that it is nothing more than a bundle of rags sewn together.
The young Estella, who is smart, stands up for the little guy and is tougher than any other boy, will no longer be recognized as the adult version of Estella. She is initially scared, insecure, and meek.
This contradicts the entire makeup of Estella’s intrinsic traits and makes us question the character in general. She gets nasty, but spending so much time on childhood backstory seems such a waste now that it turns out to be irrelevant.
Time and tempo are another theme in this film as art trumps history. Director Craig Gillespie, who gave us such masterful films as “I, Tonya” and “The Finest Hours,” loses track of his story because he spends so much time on unnecessary close-ups and looking for shots that lack emotion and those who can’t. Tell a fable succinctly.
With the exception of Emma Thompson, the story fails in terms of pace, but also in terms of casting. Stone can’t shed her embarrassingly adorable sweetness despite her threatening dialogue.
Oscillating between her low self-esteem Estella and the cunning Cruella, Stone has two cogs to portray these characters, and we always see through the veneer – she’s still the bubbly girl next door. Fry and Hauser try as hard as they can to channel their inner morons as Jasper and Horace, but there is no laugh between them.
Mark Strong, as best he could, is completely untapped as a key character in John the Valet. Unfortunately, even Thompson’s killer performance can’t revive this Disney classic.
As the story stutters and falters, the harrowing, but somehow funny, musical score wakes you up to get back into the story. The soundtrack, a uniquely curated soundtrack that is perfectly tailored to the situations and scenes, is a highlight of “Cruella”. This will be fun for rock fans of the 1970s, but that aspect will go way over the head for the little ones.
Disney’s attempt to give us a backstory to explain Cruella’s beginnings falls flat like a pancake. With the wrong cast, an incredibly dark and disturbing beginning, an inconsistent character development and an urgent need for massive editing, “Cruella” fidgets both when telling the story and when it comes to knowing the target group.
Reel Talk Rating: 2 stars (great production, costume and musical design)