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Disney’s Cruella – Review

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Cruella Emma Stone image
Walt Disney Studios

I went into Cruella with one question: “what led Cruella De Vil to want to skin puppies for a fur coat?” And while I left the theatre happy… and with the strong urge to buy a new wardrobe, that question was never answered. While I thoroughly enjoyed the new Disney remake, I have to admit that the film is better when divorced from the source material. Here’s what Cruella from Disney did right, and where the spots were in our review.

SPOILERS: If you’re reading this we assume you’ve seen the show but there are major spoilers coming up. You have been warned.

Summary

The film serves as an origin story to one of Disney’s most infamous villains; Cruella De Vil from the 1961 film 101 Dalmatians. The original film follows two newlywed couples; Anita and Roger, and their Dalmatians, Pongo and Perdita. After the two dogs have puppies, Cruella De Vil tries to kidnap them to make a fur coat. Cruella had actually kidnapped 101 Dalmatian puppies in total, and the two dogs rescue the canines. Roger and Anita end up adopting all 101 Dalmatians.

Cruella chronicles the villain’s childhood and rise in the fashion industry set in 1960s London. Played by Emma Stone, Cruella, whose given name is Estella, definitely had an “extreme” streak growing up. This leads her to be expelled from school, causing her and her mother to move to London. On the way there, her mother asks an “old friend” for help. This friend being her old employer The Baroness played by Emma Thompson. But The Baroness sends her Dalmatians on Estella’s mother, pushing her off a cliff and killing her. Estella thinks it was her fault but, as the dilations were chasing her after she accidentally crashed the Baroness’ fashion show. She runs away and ends up joining a little gang of thieves, composed of Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Houser). Both of whom are her henchmen in the original film.

After getting a job at a department store and catching the attention of The Baroness, Estella begins her career in fashion. The Baroness senses her talent, and Estella becomes one of her lead designers for The Baroness’ upcoming line. But when she learns that The Baroness killed her mother, she begins plotting her revenge, embracing her cruel alter-ego Cruella. Eventually, she discovered that The Baroness is her biological mother and a serial murderer. Estella decides to fully embrace Cruella, vowing to be an even better version of her psychotic biological mother. She fakes Estella’s death and reveals The Baroness’ murderous tendencies to the public, taking over her estate.

A perfect Cruella

Emma Stone was a perfect Cruella. As Estella, she was charming and awkward. As Cruella, she embraced an over-the-top cadence and flamboyance. She gives a surprisingly heartfelt performance and makes you root for the character even when she is acting, well, cruelly. Stone made a dramatic character feel believable in the real world and seemed to be having a blast playing her. On top of Stone’s performance were the costumes. Every single outfit Estella or Cruella wore was amazing. From the subtle yet unique every-day wear of Estella to the dramatic gowns and coats of Cruella. The costumes made the character feel set apart from the world and also believable as a talented fashion designer.

…But a soft one

My only complaint with Cruella in the film was that she wasn’t mean enough. While her plans for revenge were clever and unique, they didn’t feel like they were truly followed through with. Sewing a dress with moth cocoons to eat at The Baroness’ collection was fun and unpredictable. The heist to retrieve her necklace was entertaining. But when Cruella showed up in a Dalmatian print coat, taunting the Baroness with the fear that she had skinned her dogs… I wanted her to have actually done it. Instead, she just pretended to have killed her dogs. The Cruella from 101 Dalmatians absolutely would have skinned those dogs. I don’t need Cruella De Vil to have redeeming qualities. And I don’t expect her to take the higher road.

Skinning the dogs felt like the reveal the film was leading up to. Having her just pretend to have killed them made Cruella feel like a part Estella was playing and not who she was becoming. They actually had her bond with the dogs instead, when it felt like they should have been making Cruella hate Dalmatians given her later actions. Later in the film, she apologizes to Jasper and Horace for treating them poorly, when she treats them even worse in 101 Dalmatians. She also doesn’t kill the Baroness. Instead, Cruella takes the high ground again, simply sending her to prison. Once more, Cruella De Vil does not need to be redeemable, or even an anti-hero.

Post-credit

I wanted to see her descent into madness. Into one of Disney’s most unredeemable villains; a woman who wants to turn puppies into a coat! Furthermore, in a post-credit scene, it’s revealed that Cruella was the one who gifted Pongo and Perdita to Roger and Anita. While it’s a cute callback to 101 Dalmatians, it makes absolutely no sense for Cruella to later try to skin Pongo and Perdita’s puppy. Or even to kidnap Roger and Anita’s dogs, with who she is in good standing with at the end of this movie.

Throughout the film, Anita and Cruella were seen as childhood friends and later amicable co-workers. Anita even roots for Cruella. The actions of Cruella in 101 Dalmatians don’t feel like something this version of her would do. I don’t even think they truly set her up to be a villain. More like a ruthless fashion designer. She was mean, but she wasn’t evil. Certainly not a Cruel Devil.

Final thoughts

In spite of Cruella feeling weaker than she was in the source material, the film was still lots of fun! It might be one of the best Disney remakes. Stone’s performance was nothing if not delightful, and everyone in the film seemed to be enjoying themselves. Cruella felt new and nostalgic, showcasing a plot that was engaging with touching emotional beats. It’s definitely worth a watch, and a re-watch. But it didn’t feel connected to the Cruella De Vil we were first introduced to in 1961.


What did you think of Cruella from Disney, did you agree with our review? Let us know in the comments below.


Check out our review of Pixars Soul HERE.

Read IMDb information on Cruella HERE.

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No Time To Die – Review

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James Bond No Time To Die image
Metro Goldwyn Mayer

No Time To Die is the 25th instalment in the official James Bond series. It’s the VERY long-awaited follow-up to 2015’s Spectre. The 6-year gap between the two films is only matched by the same gap between Timothy Dalton’s last outing in 1989’s Licence To Kill and Pierce Brosnan’s debut in 1995’s Goldeneye. Here’s our review of No Time To Die.

SPOILERS: If you’re reading this then you’ve probably seen the film, but if not there are spoilers ahead.

Of course, there are mitigating factors in that enormous gap. Namely COVID. Which made No Time To Die the first major film to delay its release due to the pandemic. Although, this film has had a difficult gestation irrespective of the global situation in the last 18 months. As soon as Spectre was released the speculation over Daniel Craig’s future in the role began. With him initially suggesting he would rather slash his own wrists than play the iconic spy again. He did a mea culpa on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show in August 2017, where he confirmed he would appear as Bond for a fifth and final time. The original director and writer, Danny Boyle and John Hodge, left the project a year later over creative differences. Cory Joji Fukunaga took over as director. While Bond script veterans Robert Wade and Neil Purvis took charge of the screenplay – with a sprinkling of magic from Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

Delays

Originally slated for release in April 2020, at long last, we finally get to see Daniel Craig’s denouement as 007. His portrayal of Bond has been very much in keeping with the character of Ian Fleming’s original novels. His performances have certainly followed the dramatic lineage of Sean Connery and Timothy Dalton. Rather than the lighter portrayals by Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan. Yet his Bond has displayed a vulnerability only really demonstrated with any plausibility by George Lazenby in his solitary outing as 007 in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

The deference to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is presented in stark relief throughout this 2h43min epic. Making this the longest Bond film in the series. As this was the first film I’ve seen at the cinema since before the pandemic, I was already excited before I even sat down. As a massive James Bond fan as well, I was close to apoplexy! I felt a tangible shiver go down my spine as the iconic gun barrel sequence appeared before we see James cruising around Italy in the classic DB5 with Madeleine Swann at his side. This anticipation was clearly felt by other cinema-goers. They have made No Time To Die break the UK box office record for the biggest opening weekend. It took almost £26m, breaking the record previously held by Skyfall.

I’m not going to spoil the plot for those who’ve not seen it. I had made a conscious decision to avoid spoilers before I went.

A step up?

This film is another shot in the arm for those who see Craig as the definitive Bond. This was aided by a refocusing of the Bond canon after the main tropes of the series were stretched to breaking point by the invisible cars and melting ice palaces of Die Another Day. And then stretched still further by Madonna’s cameo as a fencing instructor. Daniel Craig was given leeway to truly regenerate James Bond for the 21st Century. The stripped-back nature of Casino Royale, without most of the supporting characters that have been a staple of the series like Q and Moneypenny. Gave him licence (pardon the pun) to explore the deepest and darkest recesses of the Bond psyche. Some well-drawn female leads and villains really allowed Craig’s Bond to spar with them with depth and genuine emotion.

That exploration continues and grows in No Time To Die. We get to see an ageing, truly world-weary Bond, whose past he appears unable to escape. This leaves him in a state of almost constant angst. Paradoxically though, we also see him truly relaxed at times. In a way I can’t recall ever seeing James Bond in any of his previous cinematic outings.

Screen time

The issue with that exploration is that a number of characters then have their screen time cut. Moneypenny is reduced to little more than a cameo. And Remi Malek’s Safin is almost secondary as he features in the opening moments as his story is told, but then disappears for what seemed like an eternity. He of course reappears but he almost seems a mild irritation within the plot and merely a conduit to allow us to see the climax of Daniel Craig’s Bond era. It’s a disappointing underuse of a terrific actor. One with a captivating screen presence, who could have been one of the most menacing Bond villains of all time. That said, the influence of his dastardly but highly sophisticated plan is felt by all of the main protagonists. Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld continues to wreak his havoc with malevolent glee from his cell. He again revels in the chaos of his twisted sibling rivalry with Bond.

Lea Seydoux is wonderful again as Dr Madeleine Swann, picking up where she left off in Spectre and giving Bond as good as he gets in every way imaginable.

There are new characters who definitely cut through. Ana De Armas is utterly charming in her relatively brief time on-screen as Paloma, while Lashana Lynch takes no nonsense from Bond as Nomi. She also gives us a potential indicator as to the future direction of the franchise. Which has been the subject of much discussion in all quarters. That debate has even made its way into the political sphere with even Boris Johnson weighing in on what gender the next actor to play 007 should be.

Score

Hans Zimmer’s score is classic Hans Zimmer, adding power and bombast to the usual mix of stunning scenery and brilliantly choreographed stunts. He brilliantly weaves nods to previous entries in the Bond musical tapestry throughout his score. While his cues are always thunderous, they never overpower the action on screen, but do add a sonic rumble that I don’t think has been heard in a Bond score for quite some time. I found Fukunaga’s direction a bit mixed, with some of the cinematography unnecessarily showy. Some of the tracking shots almost gave me motion sickness while some (admittedly beautifully composed) shots of the scenery seemed to have made the edit purely so as whoever the drone operator was could demonstrate their skills.

Duration

The film is much too long, although at no point did I check my watch. It’s not that any of the plot points are superfluous, more that the pacing is a little slow in places. Some of the dialogue feels cliched and clunky, making what is a great story feel a tad generic. Which doesn’t do anyone justice. However, there were some excellent jokes, and I laughed out loud several times. You don’t have to be a 007 super fan to get some of the self-referential humour that they seem to enjoy sprinkling throughout the film.

Billie Eilish’s theme song is a worthy addition to the collection and certainly sits comfortably within the top half of the ‘Bond Theme Chart’. It’s definitely more memorable and evocative than Sam Smith’s ‘Writing On The Wall’ for Spectre. Her voice trembles at times as you can almost feel she recognises the significance of singing the theme for Daniel Craig’s final appearance in the franchise.

It was also very pleasing to see that this film has moved with the times and reflects the world of 2021 with its portrayal of women. Every single female character had a genuine purpose and important role within the plot. While of course, the female actors playing those roles are all irrefutably glamorous and attractive. There was genuine respect and no objectification of women.

Wrapping up

I came out of the screening with mixed emotions. Glad to be back in the cinema on one hand, sad that Daniel Craig’s stint ordering Martini’s was over on the other. I was pleased that such a good climax had been created to bring this era of Bond to a close, and all its story arcs had been brought to conclusions. I’m also excited and apprehensive in equal measure for the future of such an iconic film series. But I was disappointed with some of the characters not getting the necessary screen-time to truly develop their characters. Surprisingly, I was almost tearful at the final few moments, especially as the credits rolled.

Overall, this is a loving homage to the James Bond series, past and present. It’s a solid if unspectacular film in its own right, but the performances of Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux, as well as the Bond history it wraps itself in, elevate it beyond that.

It’s not Craig’s best Bond film, as Skyfall is almost untouchable in my opinion, but it does bring closure to his tenure in the tuxedo in a manner that should please Bond fans across the board. It also tantalises us as to what the 6th age of Bond will look like. Let the intense speculation begin!


CULTURE CROSSING SCORE 7/10


Thank you for reading our review of James Bond No Time To Die. Do you agree or disagree with our points or have anything to add? If so, leave us a comment below.


Check out who we think could be the next James Bond and why HERE.

Read IMDB information about No Time To Die HERE.

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