LeonDeon’s review published on Letterboxd:
What is it that drives Disney fanatics? They come in expecting the same manufactured story time and time again, yet; they keep coming back to it. It might be because of the familiarity with a “homely” brand such as Disney’s. It is a brand most grow up with and have a favorite movie from the studio. There is no denying the corporation’s cultural power worldwide, let alone the commercial world power they are. They can change copyright laws. Mickey Mouse is to be in the public domain on January 1, 2024, but Copyright Term Extension Act allows the copyright protection extensions permitted if needed. It effectively freezes the time in which copyrighted material can enter the public domain. Disney has gone out of its way to various copyright trademarks that could involve the mouse, from comics, television, and theme parks, to name a few. Originally Steamboat Willie and Mickey himself would’ve been in the public domain in 2004, but with that Copyright Term Extension Act, it gained another twenty years to its privacy.
So why does any of this matter? Who cares that a mouse can be privatized and utilized for all kinds of marketing? What does it matter to the average citizen with more direct issues? Well, since I have the rhetorical analysis on my side, I’ll answer my question with a question, how much of your life should be owned by the kindness of a corporation? When does one decide to make it an issue when Disney can control most of the media we consume, own most of the cultural iconography in the American ethos? It matters because when you hold the culture, you control the way people see or think about the world. You begin to choose your influence over others. This is not to scare you into submitting to our primal fears but instead as an awareness of what is happening. Disney as a company does not care about you; no company cares about you. If a company rakes billions of dollars a year, they do not care about their employees, the ethical means of their production, or the consumer buying said products. That is to be said for Disney films as well.
Disney as a film presence ebbs competition away every year. Because Disney holds more control over the market, with their recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox, they now own more Marvel-based franchises to tie into their Marvel Cinematic Universe. Disney helped push away the era of the mid-budget film by making films bigger and bigger, with profits expanding from the size of their productions. That is the name of the game in capitalism. The bigger your company gets, the more profits you can seemingly earn. It is no more evident than Disney now owning the two highest-grossing films of all time and shares the rights to Titanic with Paramount, with Fox holding the merchandising rights along with Dinsey. It begins to leak into what else Disney has efficacious command over - nostalgia.
Nostalgia is a potent marking tool. It influences the decisions we make daily. Through our integrations of capitalistic cultural intake, we have built affectionate bonds to logos. Children will have an affinity for Disney products as they get older, remembering a time when life was more manageable, and they could watch The Little Mermaid in their VHS player at any time on a summer night. Disney being the hyperaware company they are, knows this. They know that they have the power of nostalgia. That is why such inventions as the Disney Vault exist. The Disney Vault is forced scarcity of their home video releases. They seal away a movie for a certain amount of time and then make a marketing push for people to buy it since it might not come back out again for a long time. This is their power. They can control the wants and needs of a consumer by the shining logo threatening the consumer that if they do not grab this item, they will regret it forever. Disney claims to make their films fresher to a younger audience when they decide to release Beauty and the Beast from the vault, but this is a lie. Disney bottlenecks their products to drive up the price because they know their items are a necessity for the nostalgically incentivized.
What must this do with Cruella? It’s a movie that has come out to the appreciation of audiences citing its punk rock design. It has two powerful women in the central roles as they play a dangerous game of cat and mouse, seeking to be at the top of the fashion world. However, there is more to the narrative, a full ounce of revenge. Cruella (Emma Stone) rather Estella is a woman haunted by the past looking to do something beyond be a thief to get by. There is a methodology to her madness, and it is only heightened when coming into contact with The Baroness (Emma Thompson). They both compliment the worst aspects of one another, allowing their viciousness to exude from their personas. Cruella is an extension of madness exposed from under the surface, finally reaching a bubbling explosion. The Baroness’s madness is subdued by maintaining a high-society status quo, but both characters are of the same coin of madness.
Cruella suffers from one of the worst script adaptation recanonizations of previous material I have ever witnessed. This Cruella might as well not even be the Cruella we all know. Dana Fox and Tony McNamara make Cruella as sympathetic as possible for an audience, from being attacked by dogs, being homeless, unrecognized for her talents, and being bullied for being different. The duo doesn’t realize that this doesn’t make an audience more sympathetic if the leadup to each event is so obvious you could see it from the edge of the Milky Way with the naked eye. So for this adaptation, they decide to make her sympathetic by making everyone else around more miserable. In turn, The Baroness much crueler than Cruella could ever be because we understand who she is and what her goals are. Because the duo has strained away from the conceit, why even be tied with the material in the first place? Adaptations can exist, and there is no problem with such a concept, but there needs to be a necessity. What else can be explored from the world of 101 Dalmations? Cruella is the most exciting figure of that world, but when you shave away all of the interesting pieces of her character for a faux version of the villain, why frame her as the protagonist?
Cruella’s other claims to fame seems to be the fashion attached to the costuming. It could work if the film didn’t have a commodified look to the London punk rock scene. I find it ironic that people will claim that this is a rebellious film because of the aesthesis and timeframe. Yet this is made by a mega-conglomerate whose only goal is to make money, so they will consume anything original and outside standardized tastes to make it appealing to a mass audience. The appeal of punk rock was to tear down a capitalistic society that only cared about fitting in and working for your boss. This movie is literally about taking down your boss to become your own boss, but it comes from a misunderstanding of punk. Suppose the purpose of having it set in this era was to support the themes of Cruella. In that case, it fails to complete its goal because the character takes advantage of others in the process and comes from self-interest, which would work if she were the villain, but this is the reimagining of Cruella, so she is the hero.
Craig Gillespie does this trick a lot in the film, and you could call it a motif; I would call it annoying, but to each their own, his trick is having a character sit down and the camera slowly dolly, zoom, or move in on their faces. It may work if it stood out from the film, but because its used excessively, it becomes monotonous as it’s the only thing this one-trick pony of a movie has. It tries excessively to have a handheld look to the film but can never really stick with a directing style. Having various ways of moving the camera can add some dynamism to the film. Still, it has to be in service of forwarding the narrative or using visual language to key the audiences in on essential details. Maybe it’s too scientific of a breakdown, but there needs to be a reason for having your movie shift styles if you’re going to try and replicate a specific look or feel. The texture of Cruella feels like the worst kind of fast fashion wherein everything is a knock-off but with nothing appealing about it from the start.
Cruella is narrative that needs not to exist still exists. Its paradoxical incepti0on bewilders me still. The plain answer would be that the bottom line is the most important aspect when making a production like this, but knowing how Disney operates, I have no reason to believe that Disney made this out of love for the material. If that were the case, they would’ve left it alone, or they would have made something more nuanced than what appeared on the screen. I’ve looked at this movie from all angles I cannot find one reason to indulge in praising it. It is corporatism at its worst with everything being so coldly calculated to inspired direct reactions holding hands along the way, spoon-feeding information. If this movie is an expansive epic look at the fashion world, why does it feel so ugly? Why must it be the blandest and sadly designed punk Britain? It would’ve been better if the character of Cruella was the monster we’ve come to know her to be because the adaption is one that the mistress would scoff at, puffing her smokey cigarettes at for even attempting such a gaudy lambasting of her character.