tl;dr: Derivative, thin plot but with inspired acting, visuals and costume design. Not recommended, but there are worse ways to spend 2 hours and 14 minutes.
Generally speaking, I think it is best to offer reviews for things that are excellent or in exceptional circumstances, advice to avoid something terrible. Cruella is neither of these things. It has some really brilliantly executed shots. But, it’s mostly a pastiche, a mishmash of moments that don’t work to tell a fundamentally interesting story. If I had to list the problems with the film, it might look like this:
- Cruella is another example of Disney recycling old content and preaching “family” values
- Cruella is a comic book villain, someone who wants to make coats from Dalmatian puppies (in the original)
- In this version, Dalmatians are like Dobermans or German Shepherds, except for the inconvenient fact that American Animal Hospital Association writes about a study that puts them in the bottom five breeds for bite risk
- Cruella’s superpower is fashion in the service of narcissism, which is sympathetic because we are comparing her to someone worse and it is more relatable in an era of self-absorbed “influencers”
- The relationship dynamics in this story are ridiculous, e.g., the Butler.
- There’s also an underlying theme that genetics are fate and that somehow the real choices she is making aren’t defining who she is more than her parental lineage
And I could go on. Ordinarily, I’d give a film like this one a pass on all of these defects because it is a “popcorn” movie. The whole point of watching it is to enjoy the action sequences. But, man, something about that greasy Disney touch, with the moralizing while constructing a story that makes horrible behavior look sympathetic revokes that free pass.
You might also argue, and you’d have a point, that the fact that it gave rise to this kind of reaction might suggest that it has artistic merit on those grounds alone, a kind of provocateur. Maybe. But, it’s still a pretty mediocre movie.