Reviewed by: Charity Bishop
REVENGEFULNESS— Becoming devoted to hatred and getting revenge
What is SIN AND WICKEDNESS? Is it just “bad people” that are sinners, or are YOU a sinner? Answer
About the fall of mankind to worldwide depravity
Are you good enough to get to Heaven? Answer
How good is good enough? Answer
Punk rock revolution of the 1970s
The world of the rich and famous
The cost of keeping up with the fast crowd
A teenager with a dream ambition to become a talented, innovative fashion designer
About ORPHANS in the Bible
About the POOR in the Bible
Rebellious young people
Criminals / grifters / robbers / robbery / thieves / thievery
Is the Feminist movement the right answer to the mistreatment that some women endure in this sinful world? Answer
Emma Stone … Estella / Cruella de Vil
Emma Thompson … The Baroness von Hellman
Joel Fry … Jasper Badun
Paul Walter Hauser … Horace Badun
John McCrea … Artie —a member of Cruella's entourage / He is the first openly gay character in a live-action Disney film.
Emily Beecham … Catherine de Vil / Maid
Mark Strong … John the Valet
Kayvan Novak … Roger
Kirby Howell-Baptiste … Anita Darling
Jamie Demetriou … Gerald
See all »
|Director||Craig Gillespie—“Lars and the Real Girl,” “Fright Night,” and “I, Tonya” (Note: Gillespie has stated that he has been an atheist from his youth.)|
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|Distributor||Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures|
How to become cruel and evil
It’s difficult to turn a “would-be-puppy-murderer” into a likable protagonist, but in their trend of re-imagining their villains and giving them back stories, Disney has managed to do just that. Kind of.
Estella is not like other children. She’s a genius. Her vivid mane of black and white hair sets her apart. As does her attitude, an alternate ego she and her mother call “Cruella.” Estella wants to be nice, but Cruella wants to beat up other kids on the playground. One too many incidents in the principal’s office gets her expelled. Left without any money, her mother has no choice but to stop at a mansion on the cliff to “see a friend” she hopes can help them. “Stay in the car, Estella,” she says.
But this is impossible. The mansion is full of fashionable people, and Estella loves fashion more than anything. She and her small dog get out of the car just for a look, but then a tragic event befalls her mother. Estella winds up an orphan alone in London, where she makes friends with two other street-wise kids. Ten years later, the trio are some of the best thieves in London. Estella (Emma Stone —“La La Land”) comes up with fabulous costumes, Jasper (Joel Fry) urges her to pursue her dream of working in a fashion house, and Horace (Paul Walter Houser) is always looking for “an angle” to exploit. For her birthday, Jasper gets her a job at London’s most elite department store.
Though stuck scrubbing toilets and peeling gum off the tiles, Estella takes a risk and winds up working for The Baroness (Emma Thompson —“Sense and Sensibility,” “Nanny McPhee), a ruthless fashion designer with a diabolical secret. Once Estella finds out what it is, she just can’t hold back Cruella anymore. Estella may want to be nice, but Cruella wants to trounce her adversary in public, the one way she knows will leave the most lasting impression: through fashion, darling. I mean, what else is there but to make a statement?
In case you’re wondering, “Cruella” doesn’t “humanize” the infamous villain from the Disney animated film. There’s some doubt whether this version of the story is a prequel to the Glenn Close version of the 90s (Close also produced this film) or an “alternate reality” take on it, which I suspect is closer to the truth. She actually likes dogs and owns one, but isn’t terribly fond of the Baroness’ Dalmatians, and who can blame her? (Spoiler: the Dalmatians kill her mother by causing her to fall off a cliff.) The only mention of potential dog-slaying is when she turns up in a gorgeous spotted coat at one of her fashion shows, and the Baroness assumes she has killed her dogs (she hasn’t, but she does say “they would make a nice coat” and when her friend shows horror, dismisses it with a laugh and “I’m joking”). The rest of the time, Cruella is just diabolically smart and having a “good time” being outrageous.
I thought that the beginning of the film, and the lead-up to “Cruella” taking over the plot moved a bit slow, but the second half is more enjoyable. It’s a mix between a Harley Quinn-esque “origin story” (that is somewhat family-friendly) and “The Devil Wears Prada.” The story is somewhat predictable in its twists, but has gorgeous costume design. The soundtrack is full of 70s pop tunes, which lends a lot of fun flair to the project. And the acting is terrific. Emma Stone cannot quite cackle as high as Glenn Close did, but she brings a wonderful energy to Cruella that makes you both like her and a little bit… fear her.
As far as parental concerns go, the PG-13 rating comes from thematic elements and some violence. Estella sees her mother flung off a cliff by three dogs and blames herself for her death for over a decade, then wants revenge once she finds out the truth. The Baroness tries to have her murdered by having her attacked, tied up, and left in a burning building. We learn through flashbacks that Cruella’s mother did not want her child, so she ordered the baby killed after it was born (a kindly person gave it to a housemaid instead). We assume another character has been murdered the same way (being thrown off a cliff) only to find out she deceived the police and framed someone for her “murder.” The Baroness is quite mean to her employees, not caring if she hits them when she throws chairs around and pricking Estella with a knife as she ruthlessly slashes the sleeves off a dress. Cruella drives a car recklessly down the street, smashing into other vehicles and scaring pedestrians. People are punched, kicked, and pushed. Men get hit in the eye with a cane and a champagne cork.
There’s several uses of the British expletive “bloody,” a few uses of “hell,” and people say “Oh, God,” a few times. Estella breaks into a man’s liquor cabinet and gets totally soused before she redesigns the store’s front window (and passes out). Other characters sip wine. A Dalmatian eats a necklace and the characters wait for it to come out “the other end.” (We see him squatting and then people waving around a metal detector. A character later gives someone the necklace and says it’s been bleached.)
Being thieves, Estella and her friends pick pockets on public transport systems, and she breaks them out of jail by crashing a dump truck into the police station. She goes out of her way to enact revenge on her enemy by destroying an entire fashion line and pulling outrageous pranks. Artie, one of her friends who works in a vintage store, is flamboyantly, stereotypically Gay and likes to cross-dress, though no one ever mentions this (he shows up in blouses and makeup, and sporting a David Bowie “Ziggy Stardust”-esque persona). Cruella eventually renames her house “Hell Hall,” and takes, of course, the last name of “De Vil.”
There’s also spiritual problems here. The movie’s message is that you grow up to be whoever you are “born to be.” Estella cannot fight her evil nature forever, so she might as well give in to it. By the end of the film, she has completely abandoned her desire to be “good,” because being bad is far more useful to her (and a lot more fun!).
It reminds me of the novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The moral of that story is if you feed your evil nature even a little, it soon consumes your life. Jekyll thought he could separate himself into two persons, but indulging his sinful nature caused it to take over his life and erase the good inside him. Cruella is similar, a tale of a girl who gives in to her worse nature, but this is not presented in a negative light. The movie becomes way more enjoyable, entertaining, sarcastic, and “fun” once Cruella comes out to play, which could give children the wrong idea that being bad is more glamorous and admirable than trying to be good.
“Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on.” —Proverbs 4:14-15 ESV
No one is perfect, and we all fight our worse nature on a daily basis. It’s what Jesus asks us to do, to learn to treat others as we would like to be treated, to forgive those who abuse us, and to resist our sinful urges in a desire to be more pleasing to the Lord. As fun as a villain origin story is (and this one is clever and funny), children need to know that Cruella’s desire for revenge, her ruthlessness, and how she treats other people aren’t to be admired or emulated.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.