Is the world ready for a lady Joker?!
What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a fashion industry that ignores her?
You get inappropriate laughter, white face paint, and a mononym title for a villain's gritty origin story. In other words: exactly what you deserve.
Cruella, starring Emma Stone offers a darker look at a classic cartoon baddy. The first trailer for the new film — slated for a May 28th release on Disney+ — features scenes of domestic squalor and mid-to-late 20th century urban decay, brief moments of triumph, and a gratuitous mental breakdown that breeds chaos in the streets. It promises an intimate portrait of its main character, Estella de Vil, as she embraces a dark persona and a new name — Joker, er... I mean Cruella.
Disney's Cruella | Official Trailer www.youtube.com
With striking visuals, some lively voiceover work from Stone, and director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya; Lars and the Real Girl) taking the helm, there would be every reason to expect some high-quality entertainment from Cruella... With the caveat that it feels like high-quality entertainment that we've already seen.
Apart from some touches of Hunger Games, the trailer could almost be for a female-led Joker remake — a la Ghostbusters (2016). All Arthur Fleck wanted to do was to make the people laugh with his comedy. And apparently all Estella de Vil wanted to do was to "make a statement" with her fashion. But when the world rejected them, things went horribly wrong.
Of course this could just be a case of a deceptive trailer. Cruella reportedly started filming back in the summer of 2019, months before Joker was even released — though the buzz had definitely started. Maybe the similarities only go deep enough to fill up a 90-second trailer with flamboyant outfits, smeared makeup, and oddly-dyed hair in disarray.
If that's the case, then the trailer must be going out of its way to call out the parallels, because it seemingly takes its cues directly from Joker's trailer. There's the dreamy, haunting music, the sad face transforming to a creepy smile, it even closes with an ironic phrase broken up into three parts that flash across the screen between dramatic shots — "PUT ON | A HAPPY | FACE," and "HELLO | CRUEL | WORLD."
JOKER - Teaser Trailer - Now Playing In Theaters www.youtube.com
Is it unfair to point out the visual similarities between Stone's Cruella de Vil and the Joker's sometimes-grilfriend, Harley Quinn? After all, Cruella has been rocking her heavy makeup, asymmetric hairstyle, and eye-catching fashion since the 1960s. Maybe it's more a case of parallel thought than actual theft...
But beyond the question of whether fans of Joaquin Pheonix's Joker would turn out for a jokerfied Emma Stone in Cruella — or reject her as they tend to do with any women who take an active role in a movie — there is a bigger question regarding the future of Disney films. Is the gritty reboot really the way forward?
In many ways the 101 Dalmatians franchise has always marked Disney's direction. The first film, in 1961, was a financial success that pulled the company out of a box office slump and proved the viability of new, cheaper forms of animation. In 1996 and 2000 the live-action Glen Close version and it's sequel — 102 Dalmations — kicked off an era of lazy sequels and subpar live-action remakes of animated classics that has continued to this day.
So is 2021 the beginning of Disney's DC turn? Is it going to start pumping out dark, gritty versions of kids stories — with hints of plagiarism?
In a way, the character of Cruella de Vil — with her mania for skinning animals — has always had a dark, disturbing core of madness. The new film is just leaning into — taking it more seriously in the same way that Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder, and Todd Philips leaned into the darkness and violence of Batman and Superman's comic book worlds. But it feels far stranger — far more upsetting — when it's coming from Disney.
If it turns out that Cruella's touches of arson, violence, and insanity support a light-hearted, kid-friendly story, then we can all laugh this off. Until then