Ah, here. Is it a tam-tam? Is this the scream I think it is? In these spoiler-phobic times, we’re probably not allowed to reveal the song played at the end of the last mega-villain origin story, but let’s just say we would have sooner forgiven the red buses crossing Tower Bridge at London Calling. It’s so obvious, embarrassing (woo, woo!).
Be careful, they may not have had a choice. Maybe there was nothing else left. By the time this absurdly too long and quite entertaining madness comes to an end, it feels like every recorded piece of music released between the Profumo scandal and Princess Diana’s wedding has been aired. Poor old Cruella de Vil – because she is – can barely clean her teeth without extracts from Deep Purple or the Ohio Players beating time with the movement of her brush.
Which isn’t to say that such sequences aren’t fun. Any aging music purist deceived by the publicized idea that Cruella is a tribute to punk (or “punk rawk” perhaps) will be disillusioned long before the appearance of long-canceled non-people like ELO or Supertramp. Even the bores can, however, appreciate how the ocher action vibrates to the rhythm of the nutty brown beats.
Disney is not true to its time. No version of punk can make sense in a 1970s so stripped of rubbish, poverty, unemployment and dissent. But Disney is true to itself. There are more Mary Poppins than Angry Brigades in this London. And it’s good. Quite family-friendly, reasonably funny throughout, Craig Gillespie’s film, which takes great advantage of Jenny Beavan’s fabulous costumes, carries on the Mouse House tradition of restructuring the historic vibe – Mary’s 1910s for example – by as an easily digestible wonderland. There is corporate genius out there.
Sadly, these sleek production values don’t do much to resolve the unsolvable dilemma the studio has set for itself. After One Hundred and One Dalmatians, an animated delight from 1961, and the terrible live-action remake of 1996 (almost certainly now re-rated as a classic by people who were then children), the image seeks to make a girl. friendly feminist between the two. -the boss of a puppy-killer psychopath.
Emma Stone, charismatic despite a shaky accent, plays something more empathetic than an antihero. She is funny. She’s lovely. His greatest sins are in the art of mischievous performance. Although controversy has formed around the psychological undergrowth of Joker, this film has never attempted to claim that its protagonist was anything other than a malicious demon.
Cruella acts as the result of an endless script conference that only generated partial answers to the questions posed. Maybe it’s Batman. Let’s give it a similar trauma in the opening scenes. No, Cruella de Vil did not use questionable methods for potentially justifiable purposes. She was just mean.
What about the medically questionable movie staple that is Multiple Personality Disorder? We could play on this black and white hairstyle to suggest that the decent Estella (Great Expectations benchmark?), Raised by the kind Emily Beacham in modest circumstances, finds herself in internal war with the malignant Cruella. But Cruella de Vil was Cruella de Vil the whole time and we still have to whip the evil version like a ‘kick-ass’ heroine. No one will pump their fist for little Estella.
The less bad solution here is to give all of the traditional Cruella moves to Emma Thompson as the ever dreadful baroness. Around the opening catastrophe, the powerful fashion designer becomes a presence in Estella / Cruella’s later life when the young woman takes her first steps in the rag trade. The Duchess is rude. She is naughty. She is potentially deadly. Ring bells? If the film and its protagonist had another name, critics would still call the Baroness a “Cruella de Vil type”.
Maybe all of this will make sense for the sequel implicitly promised in the closing credits. The endless script meeting continues.
On Disney + from May 28.