I’ll admit, this movie sort of won me over. Like many people, I’ve been getting a little tired of the constant live-action remakes, because, while some of them have been stunning (Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast come to mind), a lot of them have fallen flat for me (*ahem* Mulan and Aladdin).
So, with great trepidation and few expectations, I watched this movie which didn’t appear anything like what I typically enjoy. Punk/grunge aesthetic, villain origin story, and the fact that 101 Dalmatians has never been my favorite Disney movie.
But, you know what? It worked.
What I Liked
First and foremost, Emma Stone and Emma Thompson were brilliant to watch. Each actress dominated their own scenes, and when they appeared together, their dynamic was super entertaining. I just watched Sense and Sensibility, so it’s a little crazy to see Elinor Dashwood be such an imposing villainess.
I’m always a sucker for fashion and clothes designing centered stories, but I was initially a little leery of the whole ‘70s punk look. In the end, however, I liked the way they leaned into the aesthetic, weaving it into Estella’s character and contrasting the world of couture with her wild designs. It adds a fun flavor, and the creativity of the costume designers is jaw-dropping.
What I Didn’t Like
There were a few parts that didn’t quite work for me, however. One of those was Estella’s arc to becoming Cruella. It seemed jarring– all of a sudden she became cruel and jeering. A touch of darkness and malice always haunted her character, but I felt like the transition into the villainess we all know wasn’t smooth. Not to mention, when the movie ended, I didn’t see her being quite as extreme as the puppy thief we meet in the original movie. So, as an origin story for Cruella de Vil, it’s interesting, but doesn’t explain why she wants those Dalmatians as strongly as she does.
As well, the thematic question of the movie seemed to be “are our characters built more by nature or by nurture?” The film’s answer seemed to be that our identities are shaped more by nature. Estella became Cruella because, despite being raised to be kind and control her temper, that’s who she “really was.”
I’ll just say it outright– I disagree with that conclusion. I think we all have a choice about the type of person we become. We can’t control whether we’re brunette or have emerald eyes, but we can control whether we live with integrity, treat others with kindness, and face trials with resilience. Humans have autonomy–we were given the ability to choose good or evil. We are a result of both nature and nurture, yes, but we can change our thought patterns.
Science calls this neuroplasticity.
The Bible calls this renewing our mind.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–His good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
If the Apostle Paul wrote about it so long ago, it’s not exactly a new concept.
All in all, I thought Cruella was a fun, well-acted negative arc story. I’m not sure it fits as an origin story to the Cruella we meet in 101 Dalmatians, which makes it challenging to rate, since that’s what it promised the viewer. However, if you’re in the mood for a fast-paced, entertaining movie and are willing to overlook the themes, it was definitely enjoyable.
3.75 out of 5 stars.