This weekend, I rewatched One Hundred and One Dalmatians, the animated Disney feature from 1961. This wasn't one that my family had in rotation much as a kid, and I hadn't seen it in years, so I was pleasantly surprised by how delightful it was. The backgrounds look like beautiful sketchbook drawings, and the character animation has that charming handmade quality that's imperfect in an endearing way. At 79 minutes, it zips right by, telling the simple story of a dog who wants a family and who goes on an adventure to save his family when they're in trouble.
I was watching to see if anything about this material might make one wonder if there were any shades of gray to a character essentially named Meanie McSatan. Nope! Cruella De Vil, I learned, lives in an old manor that's literally called Hell Hall. Her henchmen, Horace and Jasper, are brothers with the surname "Baddun," so when British characters warn each other about them, it sounds like they're saying "Look out for the bad'uns!" It's not subtle.
It doesn't have to be, I'd argue, because the stakes of the film are "what if a dog felt worried?," which provides dramatic tension aplenty. I never want any dog, under any circumstance, to feel anything but joy, so the stakes are clear as day. Nevertheless, the powers that be at Disney-Marvel-Pixar-Lucasfilm-ABC-Nat Geo-ESPN decided that Cruella needed a backstory, and the backstory is this:
One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961) asks the question: what if dogs had feelings and inner lives? Cruella (2021) asks: what if humans had feelings and inner lives? They do, in the real world, so it's significantly less interesting a premise. It also makes me deeply suspicious of the protagonists I so loved revisiting the original cartoon. Pongo and Perdita are respectable, family-oriented members of canine society, but this clip makes me wonder if they'd turn on the humans they seem so fond of. Unless these particular Dalmatians were wronged by a De Vil, specifically? Will will learn in another prequel that a previous De Vil killed their mother? How far back does this blood feud go?!
I haven't actually watched Cruella because of how I'd rather die than do that, even though the costumes look cool. I'd rather see those costumes in a different movie. I've never wondered how Vivienne Westwood's life would have been different if her mother was murdered at the paws of a roving pack of Dalmatians and I don't care to find out. Who has? Who wants this?? Is it the same people who want to see Timothée Chalamet as Willy Wonka, against my express wishes? I am particularly flummoxed by this trend of making a beloved IP way worse on purpose because of the recent developments in the Powerpuff Girls reboot fiasco. If you don't know about this, I'm about to ruin your week.
You may have heard that a live-action Powerpuff Girls series in the works. According to the official pitch, the series will follow Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup as "disillusioned twentysomethings who resent having lost their childhood to crimefighting." The pilot was written by Diablo Cody. It was to air on the CW. Nothing about this sounded promising. And then the script leaked.
It's so bad. It's so bad. It's unironically exactly like this Jenny Arimoto TikTok.
Some people hoped that this wasn't real, presumably because they hadn't seen the costumes for this production to calibrate their expectations. But "Powerpuff Girls" started trending on Twitter, then the CW filed a copyright strike on the leak, and then they announced that they were reworking the entire project, so it seems like that was the actual script. Obviously, the correct choice here would be to throw the entire project in the garbage, but we live in hell.
Again, I must ask who this is for. Millennials grew up with the Powerpuff Girls, but Gen Z is the target audience of most CW shows. And yet Diablo Cody is a Gen X writer whose coming-of-age story Juno faced backlash for dated pop culture references (Soupy Sales, "Thundercats are go!") that no 16-year-old would drop in 2007. Her Powerpuff Girls script ditches the twee tone for a far worse direction, peppering in socially conscious buzzwords from SJW Tumblr blogs. ("I'm not wearing that dress anymore," bisexual Buttercup says at one point. "It's compulsory heterosexuality.")
The obvious model here is Riverdale, a show that I can't imagine Gen Z enjoys unironically. If they do, though, it's presumably just because it's a teenage soap opera cast with hot actors and not because of any innate attachment to Archie comics. Just make new shows and movies about new things!
Why is this happening to us? Do we blame Christopher Nolan for kicking off a trend of gritty, realistic reboots? Is the popularity of Joker responsible for Cruella? Is BuzzFeed and the nostalgia industrial complex fueling this demand for new versions of the familiar? Does anyone genuinely enjoy this shit? (I'll admit that I enjoy the Cruella memes but that's it.)
The Powerpuff Girls suffers from the same problem as so many of these reboots do: reliance on an IP that younger generations have no attachment to, but written in a would-be-hip tone to try to appeal to The Youth anyway. The result is cringey, confusing, and made for absolutely no one.
It's rare that edgy scripts stand the test of time, but the 1980s cult classic Heathers remains beloved today for many reasons. One major reason, of course, is its iconic dialogue packed with Valley Girl-aping invented slang. Though he was only 23 at the time, screenwriter Daniel Waters decided to create new expressions entirely rather than try to integrate actual teen slang and fail; as Jason Bailey explained, "The window between shooting and release is about a year, an eternity in slang time, and with a script written on spec with uncertain timelines, the lag was presumably even longer." The resulting script, with lines like "How very," "What's your damage?," and "Swatchdogs and Diet Cokeheads," is a spot-on parody of trend-chasing 80s rich kids that's endured because of its originality.
In 2017, Heathers was almost rebooted because nothing is original anymore. The series had to be scrapped because there were too many mass shootings around the time of its original release date, a particularly horrifying example of why some art belongs in its original zeitgeist.
If Disney's goal was to get me to watch the original One Hundred and One Dalmatians, they succeeded and I'm a sucker. But Cruella cost $200 million to make, and there has to be easier ways to remind people that Disney used to make good movies. In fact, it's kind of depressing to remember that their vault is full of lively, enjoyable movies that actually appeal to a clear target audience. It's hard to remember when you see the dead-eyed CGI animals in The Lion King (2019) that Walt Disney presumably did not start making movies with the goal of working towards depicting an actual, photorealistic mouse piloting a steamboat. In a documentary about the making of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the game-changing film that saved Disney's animation studio, legendary animator Richard Williams explained, "That’s the rule with animation, you have to do what you can’t do with a camera. They knew that in 1905: don’t ever do what a camera will do. So everything in animation should have an element of impossibility."
The impossibility, the inventiveness and creativity, should be the point. What's the point of all these reboots?
This week's Friendmendations:
- There's a really simple explanation for those ridiculous "life hack" cooking videos: it's a sex thing
- Writer and director Ben Mekler has a running bit going where he'll tweet a professional-sounding first reaction to a buzzy new release but include some ludicrous detail in the middle of the text. Here is an ASTONISHING thread of the many, many times his fake reactions have been credulously quoted in online publications.
- This TikTok killed me, I will never delete this beautiful app