Origins are not always necessary. We learn much about a character or culture through prequels, stories of sub-plot characters and villainous interludes with misunderstood characters who wreak havoc wherever they crop up. It is down to the origin, then, to display them as a character that is not just inherently evil, but one that an audience can confer with. We do not need these stories to appreciate them or understand, because a good villain will do that in their shared experiences with the hero. Behind a villain is not always a good story of evil intent, and such a process comes true with Cruella, a standalone spin-off for the eponymous 101 Dalmatians villain.
How are we to appreciate a villain whose antagonism stems solely from a desire to skin pet puppies? There is no way of salvaging a likeable character, and no chance of an anti-hero angle since their desire is so simple. Cruella is just that. Simple. It will make those who desire it latch onto it with ease, for they wish to see Stone in a black and white attire looking like a boss and acting like the Queen of Misery. That is a possibility put before Cruella, but is never fully realised. It has too many record-scratch moments, far too often it loses its semblance of a story to those desirable-yet-tacky moments of what Disney and director Craig Gillespie perceive as edgy.
What that means for Cruella and Emma Stone’s titular performance is lots of leather-clad clothing, black and white stylings and a “Bob’s your uncle” styling for good old London town. It smacks of the stereotypes of the time, and while stereotypes within the film are not necessarily a bad thing when utilised correctly, Cruella is offering these moments for ease of narrative, rather than that of detailed storytelling. Is that what audiences will want from Cruella, though? Surely 101 Dalmatians was enough to satiate their desires to see Cruella Deville. That is as much detail as we needed before the backstory bargain could make so much cash. Still, Glenn Close must be furious. Her live-action adaptation was that awkwardly perfect blend of (at the time) modern iconography and a zany element that prevented her character from dipping too deeply into the pond of pressing seriousness.
Its fourth wall breaks are monotonous, its origins of no particular interest and its leading character, while well performed, a complete charisma vacuum. Cruella is a coming-of-age tale mixed with an origin story and also a platform for Stone to present herself as the new face of the rebellious attitude of a new generation. Why, though? Is there anything within Cruella that, say, Spice World cannot offer? It is all about girl power, dark backstories and tragedy driving narrative decisions. There was some of that in the latter, and a lot of it in the former. Far more of it than necessary finds itself within Cruella, when it can quit pausing for another hit of shuffle on the soundtrack and a famous face cropping up for no good reason. Its self-seriousness and desire for self-preservation make it feel more like Joker with dalmatians than anything else.