Origin story movies are all the rage. Most superhero movies use this device to attract casual moviegoers to invest in a character or franchise that they are not necessarily familiar with.
Disney — that humble production studio with super-cheap theme parks named after it — released its first major summer movie this week.
“Cruella” focuses on the origin story of the villain from “101 Dalmatians.” This is as unnecessary as pre-peeled bananas in plastic wrap at the supermarket; no one asked for this.
Emma Stone (“La-La Land”) plays the title character, a hopeless wannabe fashionista who goes up against The Baroness, a rival fashion mogul played by Emma Thompson (“Nanny McPhee”).
The scenes depicting both Emmas in their accessory-soaked pissing matches are captivating; both are accomplished actresses. The pageantry of the costumes is certainly eye-catching. But if it feels like this has been done before, it’s because “The Devil Wears Prada” did it better.
“Cruella” is a Disney-produced copy. The main difference: the character isn’t motivated to simply outdo her nemesis, it’s because she’s out for revenge. It’s the origin story of a villain, so of course that’s the case.
The Baroness is implicated in the death of Cruella’s mother after she sends a trio of Dalmatian guard dogs to chase the – literally – poor woman off a cliff. Broken, orphaned children are often the best heroes, but Emma Stone isn’t playing a potential hero, she’s playing a villain in the making.
Disney’s current schtick targets audiences — especially young girls — to support and cheer for women’s empowerment. That’s fine, but this movie is driven by the success of a character who eventually decides to kill puppies in a fashion-mad crime series just to make a fur coat! That’s the main character!
Can’t the studio see the immoral implications of this?
Some have argued that this film is akin to the Todd Phillips-directed “Joker” (2019) starring Joaquin Phoenix. Yes, that’s also the origin story of a well-known villain, but these two are not the same. Not even remotely.
“Joker” focuses on a broken man who embraces this alter ego in response to the tragic brokenness of the world that brings him to his level as he struggles with mental illness.
“Cruella” – the title character’s alter ego, by the way – goes from an orphan to a dead end job and is accidentally discovered/supervised by the Baroness who was (not so ironically) in charge of the orphanage. Cruella intentional chooses to become a villain when it is not necessary.
The plot points for this film are contrived at best and idiotic at worst. It’s as if the writers read the Joker from “Batman: The Killing Joke” about “one bad day” and decided to turn a potential puppy killer into a standout hero in her own movie. Sure, bad guys probably don’t see themselves as villains, but THIS makes Michael Vick look great in comparison.
While audiences seem to like it because it’s Disney and it’s summer and they get to return to the cinema, this movie – at least the story – isn’t good. For a movie that promotes female empowerment, consider who it actually is for and what motivations Disney is trying to amplify.
“Cruella” is currently in theaters and streaming on Disney+ with Premier access.