The movies are back to normal, and the proof is in the size of crowds attracted to new releases. “A Quiet Place” was selling out or nearly selling out local auditoriums, despite multiple showings. And “Cruella” also attracted large crowds recently.
I was interested to see if there would be children in the seats during the evening showing I attended. There were. This despite the PG-13 rating. But, then, most moviegoers pay no attention to the ratings.
Why should they? “Cruella” did not contain any of the elements — harsh language, on-screen sexual activity, gory violence, or insistent suspense — which used to keep movies from getting G or PG ratings. Ironically, “Cruella” doesn’t seem likely to please kids, but not because it is too scary or adult.
Its because the movie is about high fashion and, to a lesser extent, about the rebelliousness associated with Rock and Roll music. The movie would not be nearly as successful as it is if its soundtrack didn’t include Supertramp’s “Bloody Well Right,” the Zombie’s “Time of the Season,” the Ohio Players’ “Fire,” and a pair of Rolling Stones songs.
The soundtrack lifts the plot half a dozen times and keeps our interest alive into the movie’s last third when the story slows down, switches central complications, and motors on.
For most of the movie the issue is how young Estella will become a famous fashion designer. To the extent that any issue in the movie is ever resolved, that one is by the time this longish film still has 60 minutes to go.
Viewers will have no trouble seeing what’s going on with the characters.
The script helps by having Estella (Emma Stone) point out to her friends and henchmen that she has been two characters, Estella the designer for the “house” of the evil Baroness and Cruella, the punk designer who makes opportunities to steal attention from her rival.
The movie is replete with British acting talent. The Baroness is played well by Emma Thompson, who has seen “The Devil Wore Prada” and has made her character here a comic version of Meryl Streep’s character in that movie. Mark Strong has a profoundly under-written character.
Kayvan Novak and Kirby Howell-Baptiste are important because of something that happens deep in the closing credits. Director Craig Gillespie is an Aussie.
As a whole, “Cruella” has looks, pop music, and acting. It entertains. But is it a worthy pre-quel to Dodie Smith’s 1956 book, “101 Dalmatians”?
Heck, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with its source except to introduce dalmatians (they are vicious attack dogs in the new film) and to use the name Cruella de Ville (except this time for the movie’s anti-heroine, not for its villain).
Smith also wrote “I Captured the Castle.” She had lots of imagination and a certain amount of subtlety and deserves to be remembered for her actual works.
“Cruella” goes along, self-confident and not obviously aware of how far it has gotten from its origins. Then somebody remembered that this was supposed to have something to do with that 1961 Disney animated version of Smith’s novel.
So we get the additional business in the middle of the closing credits. Two characters who have hardly figured in the new movie are elevated in significance. Maybe it isn’t enough. But Gillespie and his writers at least are willing to admit that they have made something new — “Cruella” — while using character names from something old and beloved — “101 Dalmatians” — in order to have a big ready-made audience.