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Film review: 'Cruella' better than 'Mulan,' but Disney's live action adaptations still fall flat

  Promotion material for Cruella Photo: Maoyan

Disney's new eye-catching film Cruella, a prequel to the 1996 live action 101 Dalmatians, has earned higher review scores than the live action film Mulan from Chinese moviegoers, who have applauded the former's flashy and fashionable outfits while also criticizing it as a less interesting copy of the 2006 comedy film The Devil Wears Prada. 

Cruella, which premiered in the Chinese mainland on Sunday, had earned 7.76 million yuan ($1.21 million) as of Sunday afternoon, according to Chinese ticketing platform Maoyan. 

The film has so far earned a 6.8/10 score on Chinese media review platform Douban, a far higher score than the 5/10 earned by Disney's other live action film Mulan. 

Like many Chinese moviegoers, I headed to the theater to see the film due to its strong cast, which includes two Oscar winners, Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, acting against each other. 

Indeed, the two performed their roles well. While some netizens said they think Margot Robbie would have been more suitable to play Cruella, but I think Stone has was the perfect fit for Cruella's evil charm, which is decadent and full of the punk spirit. 

As the plot moves forward, the storyline is similar to The Devil Wears Prada. As a fashion demon, Thompson's Baroness is arrogant and narcissistic and she treats everyone as a tool to dress herself, just like Miranda Priestly in Prada, while Stone's Estella lands a good job after the Baroness appreciates a window display she made. 

When Estella sees the necklace her mother gave her around the Baroness's neck, she realizes that the Baroness had her mother killed and so takes on the alias Cruella to avenge her mother's death and steal the necklace back. The following story turns into Ocean's Eleven or Ocean's 8.

In general, the story is straightforward and the characters' motivations are confusing. In order to push the story forward, the characters are forced to take action instead of allowing their choices to come about naturally. 

After seeing the film, I felt I had attended a great fashion show instead of a great film. However, while the outfits were amazing, they didn't serve the story, and in fact outshine it. 

Over the years, Disney has paid more attention to the Marvel series, while putting out only perfunctory effort when it comes to the animated films the company was founded on. 

Classic films The Lion King, Tarzan and The Little Mermaid are fond memories for many Chinese. But looking at Disney's films in recent years, Maleficent, Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, none of them have made waves in the Chinese film market. 

The original animated films can be appreciated by all ages, but the main target was still teenagers and children, so their storylines were simple and fast-paced. However, with the change to the live-action version, the original stories' childishness become overwhelming and thus the films suffer as a result. 

As Chinese theatrical films have continued to improve and tell better stories, Disney should focus on creating new interesting stories rather than re-use old characters created decades ago to keep selling nostalgic sentiment to audiences. 


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