Why Disney’s Cruella Was A Waste Of Time

When 101 Dalmatians was first released in 1961, one of the most notable things about the animated feature was the appearance of Cruella DeVille; While the name was too on-the-nose for an antagonist, her long, skinny frame, the black and white hair, and the signature long cigarette holder instantly turned her into one of the most iconic villains in the Disney category. However, not every villain needs their backstory told, and 2021’s Cruella was an example of that. When the trailer first dropped, there was some excitement and buzz in the air as Cruella felt surprisingly dark, in the vein of Joker. Now, don’t get me wrong, skinning innocent puppies is no laughing matter, but Cruella was more of an over-the-top and goofy type villain than the dark, mentally unstable, and murderous Joker. It was an interesting wrinkle that could’ve explored the early life of the Disney villain. Let’s be honest, it’s not exactly a crime to turn animals into fur coats, so that backstory alone wasn’t going to carry the feature through.

What we ultimately got was the typical Disney canon of a sympathetic villain. The problem with that scenario is that the explanation in regards to who Cruella DeVille is doesn’t make much sense. Plus, Dalmatians are evil now too? The plot twist of Cruella’s mother dying because of a pair of Dalmatians was laughably bad. There’s no way around it. I know that it’s later revealed that The Baroness was the master behind the mother’s death, but the moment doesn’t feel organic because its purpose for existing is to justify Cruella’s hatred for Dalmatians. Even then, it doesn’t make sense. By the end of the film, Cruella is literally walking with the same three Dalmatians that killed her foster mother. There doesn’t seem to be any hatred or jealously for them because it’s understood that it’s not their fault. The point behind this example is that Cruella feels trapped by its own predecessor. It actually could’ve been an interesting take on the cutthroat fashion scene during the 1970s. Unfortunately, the film has to remind you that this is the evil woman from the popular 1961 animated film.

The first trailer had a memorable quote, “The thing is, I was born brilliant. Born bad, and a little bit mad”, but in reality, Cruella is a nice little girl who has the sad bullying and outcast story that you see in thousands of other films. She’s not really a psycho, thus negating the one interesting aspect that had audiences highly intrigued by the latest Disney project. The white and black hair never makes sense. Given the fact that she’s in the fashion industry, it could’ve been some type of fashion statement, but the filmmakers chose the odd route of her being born with it instead. Cruella is at its best when it’s not trying to connect the seeds to the original animated feature. Her relationship with Horace and Jasper is good fun, and Emma Thompson and Emma Stone chew up the scenery whenever they’re onscreen. This article isn’t to say that Cruella is a bad film. It has its good moments. The reason I’m deeming it a waste of time because there was never a need for a Cruella backstory to begin with. Watching this movie isn’t going to make you appreciate the 1961 villain even more.

In fact, you may scratch your head as to why Cruella hates Dalmatians so much in the first place. Cruella’s final line in the film indicates her plan to skinning all Dalmatians, but again, she’s not looking at the dogs while saying that sly callback, nor is her actions sinister towards the three animals once. Going back to Joker, that film perfectly captures the mindset of the DC villain. While he’s given a sympathetic edge as well, it’s counterbalanced by his clear mental illness and his sinister worldview. By the end of the film, Joker is clearly a madman who goes on to become one of Batman’s greatest villains. So, if you’re watching The Dark Knight, you understand his lack of trust in the people of Gotham and his twisted knack for chaos. But another underlying issue with Cruella is that her cartoon counterpart isn’t as close to being a layered human being as the iconic comic book villain. Plus, this supposedly brilliant woman gets bested by a bunch of Dalmatians. I love dogs and not saying that they’re stupid, but surely Cruella DeVille should have the superior intellect between the two species. As I previously stated, Cruella gets in its own way because it has to be a prequel to 101 Dalmatians. If the film didn’t have to succumb to the 1961 classic, then it would’ve likely turned out ten times better.

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