On Wednesday, Disney released the trailer for their latest live-action, Cruella, a prequel to 1961’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians. The clips are filled with luxurious sets, opulent shades of gold and red, and cartoonishly evil British accents. Early in the narration, the title character says “I am woman. Hear me roar.” At that point, I had only one thought in my head: who asked for this?
In many ways, a cool, young, hot Cruella De Vil feels inevitable. Popularized by Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso’s 2014 memoir, the term "girlboss" has become emblematic of a certain type of feminism. The archetypal girlboss is white, thin and wealthy. She works her way up within oppressive structures to get to the top, not caring what (or who) she steps over.
#Girlboss has become a sort of cottage industry itself, with empty motivations written in millennial pink Bebas Neue on every Etsy listing ever. It makes sense to market vague “empowerment” slogans, especially with an ideology that glorifies capitalistic success (see: the term SHE.E.O.).
It’s not surprising that Disney would play into an extremely marketable cultural phenomenon. It’s what they do.
After all, Disney is no stranger to revitalizing old franchises through reboots, remakes and prequels. The trend started in 2010 with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, with a host of forgettable films like Oz the Great and Powerful following it up. Live-action versions of animated classics, like 2017’s Beauty and the Beast and 2019’s Aladdin, have proven to be soulless, boring movies that unfailingly make the company hundreds of millions of dollars.
Combine the mega-corporation's reluctance to take a chance on new IPs with the realization of just how marketable #girlboss culture is, and you have Cruella.
What may have been empowering five years ago, though, has now become the butt of the joke. Aside from the fact that the term itself is controversial, it has quickly become shorthand for an exclusionary, cutthroat, rather empty feminism. The latest meme making the rounds pokes fun at self-proclaimed girlbosses.
With all of this taken into consideration, the movie is wholly unnecessary. Watching the animated classic as a child, I never once asked what Cruella De Vil’s underlying motivations were. The woman whose name is essentially “cruel devil” wants to skin puppies for a coat. We as the audience don't have to be given her tragic backstory about wanting to climb the Parisian fashion ladder to understand that. She doesn’t need to be a #strongwoman or to have gone through a Joker-esque descent into madness for us as viewers to appreciate the fact that her character is a bad person.
In its marketing, Cruella seems like a relic from the past: the Hot Topic style poster, the pyrotechnic dress shown in the trailer, the girlboss-ification of an objectively terrible villain. Its aesthetic fits better alongside with 2014’s Maleficent than any creative and thought-provoking piece of media today.
I could be proven wrong, of course. Head writer Aline Brosh McKenna previously wrote The Devil Wears Prada and co-created one of the most innovative shows of the decade, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. But I don’t have that much faith in Disney.
Cruella comes out May 28. In the meantime, everyone should steel themselves for the announcement of a new movie based on the quirky origin story of the mean goose from The Aristocats.