Disney’s Latest Live Action Movie: Cruella



Emma Stone as Cruella de Vil.

Lydia Foster, Staff Writer

To be completely honest, I didn’t have very high expectations for Disney’s newest live action adaptation, Cruella. After all, Disney’s live-action remakes have earned themselves a very poor reputation. Most of them rely heavily on big budgets, an all-star cast, and special effects, rather than actual storytelling.

Especially considering that the most recent live-action adaption Disney did (Mulan – 2020) was a disaster, I could only assume that Cruella would be similarly disappointing. And even if it is more of a prequel than a remake, it couldn’t be better than the original movie. And though I was proven wrong in some aspects, there are still many areas this movie could have done better in; mainly, the storyline and the characters. But there were still categories where this film excelled.

For one, Cruella displayed a kind of aesthetic that I haven’t seen that much before in Disney movies. It was like an elegant mix between Harley Quinn and the Queen’s Gambit.

Estella, aka Cruella, is a young woman who aspires to make a name for herself in the fashion world. Along with a pair of thieves, Jasper and Horace, she builds a life for herself through pickpocketing and thievery. Then, of course, everything changes when she befriends Baroness von Hellman, a legend in the fashion industry, and later becomes the revenge-bent villain we all know.

First off, I can’t write about this movie without at least mentioning the music; the soundtrack is what really brings this energy to life. It features many British artists of the 70’s, including David Bowie, The Clash, Queen, and many others that do a great job of establishing the film’s setting, era, and tone. It’s almost like a window to the sights and sounds of London during the punk rock movement of the 1970s.

Fashion too played a large role in the movie, considering most of the movie is centered around the fashion industry. And honestly, I am not at all disappointed.

Part of what makes Cruella such an interesting character is what she gets to wear. So much of the clothing worn, not just by Cruella but also by her rival, Hellman, is so distinct and unique. It’s almost like the visual design of Cruella is a character on its own due to the punk aesthetic.

But while the music and visuals of the film were spectacular, I couldn’t help but feel like I’ve already watched this so many times: main character with a tragic backstory involving the death of one or both parents gets taken under the wing of some rich and powerful business owner and is thrust into a life of power and luxury they have never experienced before.

While that in itself isn’t a bad thing, I do wish film makers would come up with a backstory that hasn’t been done so many times before.

When Cruella has begun her descent into villainy, the story becomes more about revenge rather than about this tragic backstory. It is also when the development of the characters comes into play; which is one of the disappointing parts of the movie.

I’m not saying that all of the characters were bad, though. Emma Stone (Cruella) and Emma Thompson (Baroness von Hellman) play their roles perfectly. Stone does a fantastic job of capturing Cruella’s dualistic personality, while Thompson captures the elegance of the Baroness fantastically. However, it seems like the writers put too much of their focus onto these two, and not enough effort into the rest of the characters.

Which brings me to the two most problematic characters, Artie and Anita, who are barely even included in the film.

Artie is the owner of a vintage clothing store who admires Cruella’s sense of fashion. From the first second he is on screen, it is clear what Disney is trying to do. Artie is a stereotypical, flamboyant, openly-queer character who very clearly only exists for “representation” purposes.  He was originally written as a drag queen, but wound up with a glamorous-rock look instead. To put it as simply as possible, he is the literal embodiment of the stereotypical queer man who is shown in movies. He isn’t at all important to the story; I didn’t even know what his name was until I looked him up after watching the movie.

Then we have Anita. Like Artie, Anita is completely useless to the story, and once again, I didn’t even know her name until looking her up. Anita is Cruella’s long-lost friend from school who now works as a journalist for the Tattletale newspaper.

Anita easily fits into the “underwritten black friend who only exists to help the white protagonist” category. She has virtually no personalty, is the only non-white character in the film, and does nothing for the entire movie. She is supposed to be the one who helps spread the rumors of Cruella becoming more famous and powerful than the Baroness, but we never actually see this happen.

I’m pretty sure she and Artie only existed as plot devices and they couldn’t even do that properly. All they did was prove that Disney still has a long way to go with representation. It still seems like Disney isn’t making a real effort to come up with story lines that haven’t been done before, either.

On the surface, Cruella looks like a good movie and in some ways, it is. It was definitely a step up from previous live-action adaptations Disney has done.  The music and visuals are unique compared to other Disney films, and the punk-rock aesthetic displayed is one I’m hoping to see more of in future movies and TV shows.