At the heart of this origin story is Nature vs. Nurture. But since this a Disney film, what you get is an oversimplified tale of a poor outcast turned couture superhero that’s no more than a disposable rebrand.
In fairness, the movie does have a genuinely quirky and stylish vibe. This ain’t “We Need to Talk About Kevin“, but Cruella does commit to being darker than your usual Disney fanfare.
She doesn’t want to skin dalmatians and turn them into coats anymore, but Cruella had it rough. Her story starts with young Estella, an aspiring fashion designer with an alter ego. Cruella gets things done in a world that doesn’t understand her genius. But tragedy strikes and Cruella had to be locked away for Estella to live a not-so-honest but harmless way of life as a petty thief.
Until of course, a twist of fate causes Estella to cross paths with an arch-nemesis. She ends up working for the narcissistic fashion designer Baroness von Hellman. You’ll figure out the twist before any of these characters do, but there are lavish costumes, 70’s detailing, and punk rock references to keep you entertained at least.
As the movie progresses, however, it becomes clear that there’s zero effort made in turning Cruella into a memorable character past being Disney property and edgy cosplayer.
It’s not a surprise that Disney neuters her character for broad appeal. But this rebrand makes no lasting impression. Emma Stone does her best, but there’s no point in this movie where the rivalry of her two personalities is believable nor compelling. One of them is just rude and likes couture.
The rest of the cast also do their best with caricatures.
It doesn’t help that the middle of this 2-hour film gets repetitive. There’s neither tension nor suspense as Cruella makes an appearance and steals the spotlight from the Baroness one elaborate PR stunt at a time. One could say that she thinks too lowly of her peons to recognize that one of them is her biggest rival, but the script isn’t made for nuance.
The plot eventually ends in a predictable soap opera kind of way with a promise of a sequel that’s most likely a live-adaption of 101 dalmatians.
Cruella is written as a sympathetic character, but there’s nothing in this movie that makes her worth caring about. But then again if your aim is just to sit back, relax, forget about your own childhood memory, and pass the time with the kids, it serves its purpose.
Disney neuters one of its famous villains with a forgettable intermittently entertaining sympathetic origin story.