Another year, another Disney remake of a beloved classic. I have not been a fan of Disney’s live-action treatments of their older movies, and so I had little hope when I went to see their latest attempt at reinventing a beloved childhood tale. But hey, this is the third time they’ve adapted 101 Dalmatians into live action. Third time’s the charm, right?
To my pleasant surprise, yes, this movie had some charm. Instead of being a remake of the story we all know, this is a prequel, showing us why Cruella became a villainous dog-napper. It’s a villain origin story, much like Joker, except this won’t give your kids nightmares. It’s actually a very compelling arc that had me sympathize with Cruella. If I didn’t already know how terrible of a person she will be in her future, I would say she’s an “underdog” (haha) anti-hero worth rooting for. It does drag on for quite a while, though. Even though it’s just over two hours, it felt like almost three. Scenes were drawn out and paced very slowly, either to ensure you got your money’s worth or the editor didn’t feel like leaving anything on the cutting room floor. It’s not always the most compelling thing to watch, but I certainly felt intrigued enough to wade through a few boring moments to see how this chapter of Cruella’s life would end.
An origin story about a villain can’t happen without a brilliant actor, and Emma Stone was a solid choice for the role. Though her accent doesn’t feel authentic, her performance nonetheless demands your attention. Every frame she’s in she commands with charisma, confidence, and a hint of sorrow. From her body postures to her eye movements, I feel as though every second that Cruella is on screen is like a well-choreographed dance. It flows in a way that’s both calculated and feels completely natural, all the while captivating. The other performers did a phenomenal job too. Paul Hauser and Joel Fry as Horace and Jasper respectively made me chuckle and care for the wellbeing of the characters. Emma Thompson puts on a dastardly good show as the demeaning and selfish Baroness. Though not as memorable as the other performances, she certainly had her moments that seemed to indicate she enjoyed playing the bad guy. Clearly, the cast had a lot of fun bringing these classic characters to life, and in turn, it’s a lot of fun watching them.
The look of the film reflects Cruella’s character–dark, twisted, boisterous, and flashy. Combining the rustic look of an older London with the rebellious flair of the 70s was a great choice. It has both a timelessness feel to it and a groovy sensibility. Aside from the time and place, the real showcase in this movie was the costume designs. We all know Cruella has an outlandish fashion sense, and the costume designers of this movie took that as an opportunity to go nuts. Some outfits were striking, some were dazzling, and others were quite strange. However, this very much compliments the story and helps carry the themes and emotions of each scene. I never thought I’d say this about a movie, but the brilliance in the clothing really helps the story succeed.
Out of the live-action remakes that Disney has bombarded us with, this is certainly one of the better ones. Its artistic expressions through its setting and designs make this an excellent and unique take on a property that is rather well known, but this offers a compelling narrative that is fun and heartfelt towards the source material. This shows that Disney is capable of crafting good remakes; I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.