Film Review: Cruella

tl;dr: Derivative, thin plot but with inspired acting, visuals and costume design. Not recommended, but there are worse ways to spend 2 hours and 14 minutes.

Generally speaking, I think it is best to offer reviews for things that are excellent or in exceptional circumstances, advice to avoid something terrible. Cruella is neither of these things. It has some really brilliantly executed shots. But, it’s mostly a pastiche, a mishmash of moments that don’t work to tell a fundamentally interesting story. If I had to list the problems with the film, it might look like this:

  • Cruella is another example of Disney recycling old content and preaching “family” values
  • Cruella is a comic book villain, someone who wants to make coats from Dalmatian puppies (in the original)
  • In this version, Dalmatians are like Dobermans or German Shepherds, except for the inconvenient fact that American Animal Hospital Association writes about a study that puts them in the bottom five breeds for bite risk
  • Cruella’s superpower is fashion in the service of narcissism, which is sympathetic because we are comparing her to someone worse and it is more relatable in an era of self-absorbed “influencers”
  • The relationship dynamics in this story are ridiculous, e.g., the Butler.
  • There’s also an underlying theme that genetics are fate and that somehow the real choices she is making aren’t defining who she is more than her parental lineage

And I could go on. Ordinarily, I’d give a film like this one a pass on all of these defects because it is a “popcorn” movie. The whole point of watching it is to enjoy the action sequences. But, man, something about that greasy Disney touch, with the moralizing while constructing a story that makes horrible behavior look sympathetic revokes that free pass.

You might also argue, and you’d have a point, that the fact that it gave rise to this kind of reaction might suggest that it has artistic merit on those grounds alone, a kind of provocateur. Maybe. But, it’s still a pretty mediocre movie.

Deformin’ in the Rain: How (and Why) to Break a Classic Film

“…this essay subjects a single film to a series of deformations: the classic musical Singin’ in the Rain. Accompanying more than twenty original audiovisual deformations in still image, GIF, and video formats, the essay considers both what each new version reveals about the film (and cinema more broadly) and how we might engage with the emergent derivative aesthetic object created by algorithmic practice as a product of the deformed humanities.”

—Jason Mittell, “Deformin’ in the Rain: How (and Why) to Break a Classic Film.” Digital Humanities Quarterly. 2021. Vol. 15. No. 1.

I thought this approach of altering a film to better understand aspects of it is a pretty interesting technique that could be applied to a wide variety of artistic media. Film is perhaps more interesting because it can incorporate many different elements.

The 50 Best Cult Movies

“Making a list of movies that seem underrated or underappreciated is one thing; accounting for the ones that generate religious fervor is another,” Adam Nayman writes in this history of the cult movie. “Cult films come in all varieties—and sometimes with vigorous debate about their status attached—but genuine, possessive devotion is the baseline.”

-The Ringer Staff, “The 50 Best Cult Movies.” TheRinger.com. January 25, 2021

Puzzle (2018)

Puzzle is a movie about the transformation of a mousey, suburban mom into a real person, complex and willing to stand up for herself. I love coming-of-age movies, but one featuring a woman in her 40s with grown children, was so much better for reasons I cannot quite put my finger on. Kelly Macdonald’s performance is inspired. Highly recommended.