PG-13, which is a lot for a Disney movie. Yeah, I know that the Marvel movies are all PG-13, but that's the Marvel movies. This is a live-action adaptation of a character from 101 Dalmatians. I suppose that there are some scary things in this. I was ready to turn it off at any point, the way I heard other people talking. But really, it's mostly tame. There's death and murder, which is probably why it got the PG-13 rating. There's also some smoking (I think!) and drinking (I know!). Regardless, it's a lot more tame than I was prepped for. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Craig Gillespie
Man, I read this movie wrong. I'm going to gush over it for a while. Maybe I won't. I'm floundering about the tone of this blog, because it is a movie that I really liked that has one real major problem with it. I suppose I'm apologizing for a blog that I haven't written because I can see my own faults cropping up. I'm also writing against the clock because I never feel like writing and my anxiety is at a 7 right now. No matter what I write, be aware that this a movie that I really enjoyed that has one big flaw sitting in the middle of it.
Craig Gillespie might be a really talented dude. A few years ago, I Tonya ended up blowing my mind. (Note: my Internet is trash, so if the links aren't working...my apologies.) It was a movie that nailed a very specific tone coupled with a good story. Cruella is a masterpiece of tone. I always feel like Cruella De Vil was one of the weaker Disney villains. Yeah, she was scary, but she was so over-the-top that she would be considered unsympathetic. Keep in mind, I have a hard time marrying Emma Stone's Cruella to the one from the film, if for no other reason than age. But the goal of these Disney Villains movies is to make these wildly unsympathetic villains the heroes of their own stories. I have really mixed feelings about Maleficent and its sequel. I've talked about this before (and you could read about that if the Internet was worth a darn). But because Gillespie made this pop punk-toned joy ride, it makes it so much easier for the audience to bond with the characters of the piece. It's the Brit punk attitude that you are watching that does the heavy lifting in terms of making the characters interesting. Because there's this rock n' roll attitude throughout that makes fashion seem --God forbid --kind of cool.
Cruella can easily have been Anne Hathaway's character from The Devil Wears Prada (which I can't really judge because I haven't seen that movie) (I know, right?!). But there's rebelliousness woven into every element to Cruella. Instead of going from mousey to fashionista, the film does something that I wouldn't have dared to do: it only gave her a small nudge. Cruella starts the film as amoral. She has been dealt a bad hand, but she's the kind of character who continually makes her own life harder given every opportunity. It has this message of privilege that runs through it and how Cruella, with the world out to get her, stirs up these moments of self-sabotage that lead her to traumatic moments. I adore the fact that she mentally differentiates between Estella and Cruella and that attempt to be a good person is part of the character's motivation. It plays up that notion that superhero movies have dealt with for a while, asking "Who is the mask and who is the character?" With this film, the film gives it away with the eponymous answer, implying that Cruella is the person that Estella is at her core. But the movie then takes it a step further and implies that our read of Cruella isn't necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps there are toxic elements to the Cruella persona, but overall she's the healthiest element of the person.
The movie embraces the heck out of the nature over nurture debate. Because this is a story about defining oneself over genetics, given the fact that the Baroness is Cruella's mother, it does become something of a matter of overcoming something great. We never have that moment where Cruella is forced to adopt the traits of the Baroness despite being raised by a foster mother. But it does make it this odd decision to have Cruella out-Baroness her own mother, despite the fact that there's a kinda / sorta moral good that comes out of it. It is in this moment that I kind of wonder if Cruella is in the moral right. We all feel this sense of injustice with the Baroness acting as the villain of the piece. Because Cruella represents the lower-class, encapsulated in the fact that Cruella's far superior fashion sense is made of literal garbage and newspaper, we are instantly drawn to Cruella's plight. But the bigger thing is that we sympathize with her because the Baroness orphaned Cruella multiple times throughout the story. But that doesn't necessarily make Cruella's narrative one of good. It really comes down to a villain versus anti-hero fight. Cruella and her cronies are the only ones who really benefit from Cruella's plan to unseat the Baroness. She is the one who ends up with the big house and a fashion empire. While she isn't outright evil towards the Darling family in this one, we do understand that she is willing to scorch the Earth to get what she wants. So maybe this isn't the tale of Cruella being the hero. It's just unmaking her the villain of the piece.
But I started this whole thing apologizing for having one really big hangup about the movie: it makes the same mistake that Maleficent did. I don't think that I cared for either one of those movies. My feelings right now is that I didn't really love it, so let's just go with that. But Maleficent's mission statement was to contextualize the eponymous villain by making her the hero of her own narrative. By seeing her from another perspective, it justifies her actions in Sleeping Beauty. Okay, that's a cool plan. It wanted to do Wicked with Disney stuff. (Note: As much as I love Wicked, the same thing kind of happens.) But the thing is, to do this, you need to make someone else the villain. On top of that, the villain needs to fill the role that the anti-hero protagonist now fills. It really bothered me with Maleficent because the villains in that piece had to be so over-the-top evil to make Maleficent seem morally justified to do what she does. Also, it asks us to ignore major element of the original story, leading up to a form of retcon. With the fantasy nature of Maleficent, characters are encouraged to be monsters. But with Cruella, which seems to take place in a heightened version of reality, it becomes a little bit easier to stomach. The Baroness is just Cruella de Vil from the original 101 Dalmatians with a little more backstory. So both movies run into the same problem. They ask us to understand that villains are complex and have reasons for acting the way they do, but then provide new characters that acted just like the old characters.
But in terms of good time, Cruella completely delivers. It's got this absolutely smashing soundtrack that, unfortunately, probably could be found on the Austin Powers soundtracks. It looked absolutely rad throughout, giving the movie this false sense of non-corporate glee. It made me kind of / sort of care about fashion because it embraced the passion of the entire thing. It's an entertaining movie that just has a big flaw in the middle of it. But if you go into with knowing that you are going to have a good time, it delivers on what your expectations are going to be.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.