Disney has been remaking and reimagining its classics for the past couple of years. From Beauty and the Beast, Mary Poppins, Sleeping Beauty… even The Lion King was not able to escape this recreation of favorites to suit the tastes of today’s generation. While the new films have resulted in a mixed bag of reviews, it seems like Disney is undeterred and is going full steam ahead with this effort. Cruella is the latest release, and the film they have bulldozed through is their 1961 release of the One Hundred and One Dalmatians. It isn’t the first retelling as they did a live-action version of it in 1991 which starred Glenn Close as the fashion forward terror that is Cruella de Vil.
Cruella, however, is more of an origin story than a remake. How a rebellious young girl named Estella turns into a PETA-nightmare named Cruella De Vil is the story accorded us. It makes you rethink your villains, and while they don’t turn into good guys just because you discover their backstories, your heart kind of goes out to them… even if it’s just for the 2 hours that you watch the film.
Set in 1970’s London during the punk rock era, I was extremely excited about the visual delights of this setting. I was not disappointed. Within the first few minutes you get 50’s fashion, dresses that rival those of Marie Antoinette’s, and then you move into the era-appropriate fashions of the film. Every costume is meticulously designed, and impeccably tailored is the name of the game. AS IT SHOULD BE. The film immerses you in couture and the more questionable things that go on in fashion design houses, it would have been blasphemous for ill-fitting garments to be seen anywhere in this film. The environment was so well done, even I felt nostalgic for London in the 1970s even though I wasn’t even born at this time. The only visual flaw was perhaps the small amounts of CGI they used through the film, but it’s in such subtle ways that you could ignore it if you wanted. Top that with the nods it gives to the existing films in the Disney Dalmatians franchise and Cruella is quite endearing and shows us that family is what you make it. It even gives us insight into her relationship with Anita and even (possibly) Perdita.
The film resonated with me in more ways than nostalgia. Cruella’s battle with herself to be more acceptable and caving into societal norms is something we all experience – especially in the Chinoy community where traditions and appearances are very important. Self-discovery and having the confidence to be unapologetically yourself is never simple, especially when who you truly are doesn’t fit into what everyone else expects of you. Individuality is something hard won and will set you apart, but it can confuse and sometimes alienate those that refuse to accept the you that does not fit into the box they put you in. There were some growing pains and she almost lost the people that meant the most to her in discovering herself, but upon realizing that she was the same person just with more confidence, she realized that the things and people that mattered to her were the same. Cruella also shows us that there will be people who will stay by us no matter what and we should never take them for granted.
As a standalone film, Cruella hit all the major marks: brilliant, properly fleshed out characters, funny, well-written dialog, a story that intrigues the viewers, and it was visually appealing. Where did it mess up? There was no consistency between this Cruella and the Cruella that we know from the beloved classic films. This is important because it’s meant to be an origin story.
SPOILER ALERT: while the cause of Cruella’s disdain and fixation on procuring a coat made out of dalmatians in the older films were made very clear at the start of the film, in the end, the spotty breed won her over. This forgiveness of the dalmatians in question is quite reasonable in the film, but then once again leaves us scratching our head at her villainous desires later in her life.
Given all that, would I recommend you take the time to watch Cruella? The answer is a resounding yes. Sit down, grab some popcorn and get ready to explore the psyche of the long-time baddie, Cruella De Vil. Will she redeem herself by showing you how she came to be? Sound off in the comments.