Cruella ★★

enormously languid and dry, its flat digital tracking shots almost entirely devoid of any energy or drive. gillespie as director continues i, tonya's uncouth pilfering of scorsese, but at least here, thanks to disney's eternal PG-13 stricture, there's none of the immature toxicity and apologia for domestic abuse that i, tonya so gleefully flaunted. instead we're offered disney's idea of an 'edgy' take on one of their animated classics, which doesn't mean much more than a shit-ton of dadrock radio-friendly needledrops and uninspired sardonic humor, and yet, despite all odds, there are gleaming diamonds amidst the rubble.

if we're talking about feminine-leaning villain origins, the gold standard here is still maleficent and its sequel, which weren't afraid to embody a kind of dizzying sexually allegoric pre-raphaelite enthusiasm for its aseptic disney source material; in many ways they were more faithful to the murky medieval mythology that sleeping beauty cribbed from than sleeping beauty itself was. cruella, however, doesn't have as pointed a take on its source material: the original 101 dalmatians, beyond its cute puppies, preached a kind of 'wholesome' tory british homelife built upon an upper-class eliminating governmental debt that was threatened by 'decadent' economic speculation via the mercurial fashion industry, anxiety over the nouveau riche squandering the post-war british economy on such 'useless' things like pretty clothing. cruella stuffs all that political anxiety into, surprise surprise, an apolitical disney princess template, where cruella herself is a temporarily embarrassed fashion icon (secretly the daughter of emma thompson, her baroness-arch-nemesis), and the story charters a faux-feminist rise to prominence & acclaim upon the labor of her poor band of street thief friends.

it's a film that flirts with the idea of villainy, the idea that maybe cruella's pathological need for revenge and success is only enabled by her use & abuse of her good-natured friends whom she frequently takes for granted, the idea that cruella is just another sociopathic girlboss whose imperial impositions are modelled right after her sneeringly authoritative mother... and all that is more or less the case, but the film doesn't do anything with that text, it just defaults to the pathetic attitudes of 'she's a bit of a jerk, but she has trauma, so it's okay' and 'well she's the cool hip protagonist, so the audience has to like her no matter what', making it extremely unclear how this mildly abrasive cruella is ever related to the dog-butcherer of its source material. not that i really care, i don't need this to conform to that material, but one wonders if that refusal to actually allow cruella do anything particularly 'evil' results from disney's reluctance to even try and allow the audience to be complicit in the desires and motivations of a character who isn't 100% justified in everything they do. cruella is a work, like almost all these disney remakes, that flatters the common sense morality of its audience, never daring to actually think of its monochromatic heroine as anything but a glorious icon in disney's grand pantheon of intellectual property, rather than something like, oh i don't know, a three-dimensional character or something silly like that.

from a structural perspective, the most interesting parts of this are held in the middle act, where fashionista showdowns couple with competently accomplished heists. at its best, the banter between emma stone and emma thompson has the high-camp dynamics that should ideally light the spark of an illustriously bright queer cinema (if disney wasn't scared to death of such things impeding their profit margins, of course). when the film is allowed to indulge in a bit of old-fashioned showmanship and pageantry, which is about 30% of the runtime, it does have an honest sense of fun to it. unfortunately, as always with these affairs nowadays, there's a lot of CGI fluff and studio-mandated franchise scaffolding that weighs down any inspiration that the glorious costumes & theatrics on display here can give you. emma stone's efforts here deserve a truly strange showcase, something poppy and bewitching and anarchic; but while cruella may posture at a punk attitude, disney's conservative production mandates a show of their true hand at every turn.

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