Dark Disney has been triumphing with the misunderstood and complex villain characters, twisting them into loveable anti-heroes of our emo dreams. It’s been thoroughly refreshing to see layered female characters after years of being parched by one-dimensional princesses – although credit to Moana for not needing a man at the end of her movie.
Maleficent has been a personal favourite of mine and offered a commentary on how society creates monsters. And teens adore the Twisted Tales YA novel series which each take a classic Disney tale and remove or change the inciting incident, placing the characters in amongst real danger and conspiracy, sometimes making the villain the centre of the story. They are branded in all black with just a shimmer of colour for the cover font and illustrations, perfect for a temperamental teenager sick of the saccharine-sweet stories they’ve been fed until now.
We have been given two trailers and a sneak peek video of the new Cruella movie and they have made this almost-thirty-year-old very excited. I’ll explain why later, but first I have to highlight some elements we will have to ignore if we are to enjoy this movie when it comes out in May 2021.
Firstly, it is an origin story of someone we know becomes a would-be puppy killer. It is unclear whether this film will explore what it is about society that makes a person into a puppy killer, so for now we must assume the competitiveness of the fashion world just really gets to her, which ain’t good enough for me.
Secondly, the character of Cruella in the original animated Disney movies (based off of the 1956 novel) is a parody of the critic’s version of a 1920s New Woman – a frighteningly thin, chain smoking woman who lives only for fashion and rejects the need for a man entirely. This is further developed with Queen Glenn Close, who has some killer lines in the live action remakes such as:
“More good women have been lost to marriage than to war, famine, disease and disaster.”
Whilst I don’t entirely disagree with Cruella – no-one needs a man and of course you can live for fashion – she also rejects other women’s ways of living which is not what feminism is about. So, my question here is – what aspects of gender expectations and conformities will they be exploring in this film? There seem to be some nods to this – like having her say the cringe-inducing line “I am woman, hear me roar” and the fact she is pictured as a flawed female character, the latter being something I live for, darling.
Maybe I am holding it up to too high a bar for a kid’s movie… Although they haven’t yet rated it, so it is currently unclear who their audience is: their usual kids’ market, or teens who enjoy their YA novels, or someone like me who is a ‘proper’ adult and grew up on the Disney diet?
All that aside, I am genuinely thrilled for this coming out.
Emma Stone and Emma Thompson going head-to-head in the fashion world whilst wearing absolutely over the top and exquisitely detailed ensembles? Oh, the drama of it all – yes please! Both Emmas are incredible actors who have demonstrated time and time again their ability to dominate any role they are cast in.
Plus, it’s not often you see Emma Thompson as an antagonist and from the looks of it she is loving it, going whole ham. Disappointingly, we have only one pithy line from her so far, so fingers crossed she doesn’t merely scowl in the movie itself.
And Emma Stone! Well, she is absolutely chewing the scenery here. Her received pronunciation accent is top drawer, her facial expressions are never the same twice, and she just holds her own in those melodramatic clothes that might diminish anyone else. After I watched videos criticising the portrayal of a woman’s breakdown in The Queen’s Gambit, I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled to see how other media depicts them.
Beth Harmon’s breakdown consists of sitting delicately in her best lingerie, make up flawless, the wildest thing being her eating crackers straight from the box. In the trailers and sneak peek, we see Cruella in various states of distress and poise. She is presented at times as absolutely immaculate and at other times as smudged and rat tangled. Excellent!
I am all for suspending disbelief to be entertained and surprised by a fanciful and disjointed story that drives towards multi-faceted characters than bored by a logical one. Plus, the team behind it is very promising, including director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya), Glenn Close as one of the executive producers, and one of the Mad Max: Fury Road costumer designers, Jenny Beavan.
Emma Stone: I live for her, I worship her. After all, is there a woman in all this wretched world who doesn’t?