Michael Leahy’s review published on Letterboxd:
Welcome to my review of 'Cruella'.
Set in 1970s London during glam rock's heyday, rebellious outcast Estella (Emma Stone) is made assistant to wicked fashionista The Baroness (Emma Thompson). Competition brews when Estella becomes Cruella de Vil.
De Vil in 1961's '101 Dalmatians' has a catchy song and cool outfit. She is a serviceable antagonist, offering nothing beyond her motivation and personality. 'Cruella''s cast and crew, populated by Academy Award winners and nominees, fill in those blanks.
The characterisations in 'Cruella' are clear. Motivations, distinctive behaviour, personalities, attitudes, backstories, memorable introductions: Such essential components are present throughout. This justifies Baroness and De Vil's captivating rivalry, even before the twist's reveal. The lean script only introduces characters, locations, and items that become relevant.
This more than makes up for fairly bland dialogue.
Director Craig Gillespie ('I, Tonya') made an engaging film where the performances are superb, the image is focused, the scale goes well-communicated, and choreography stuns. He disappoints only with an over-the-top tracking shot, and poorly rendered animated bats.
Editor Tatiana S. Riegel's ('I, Tonya') inspired transitions help streamline the narrative. Her choices maintain the film's momentum.
Queen's 'Stone Cold Crazy' during a getaway, David Bowie's 'Boys Keep Swinging' while strategising, and a raucous live performance of 'I Wanna Be Your Dog' by The Stooges are all exemplary needle drops.
What better way is there to introduce these records to a new generation?
However, 'Cruella' also showcases painfully obvious and over-saturated songs. Pair that with underrated tracks like Black Sabbath's 'The Wizard' being played for mere seconds, and you have an overboard playlist. The crowdedness is preferable to modern barebones soundtracks like 'Wrath of Man' and 'Zack Snyder's Justice League', though ultimately 'Promising Young Woman''s conciseness with music is always best.
There is no shortage of head-scratchers, for instance, Estella being born with a full head of black and white hair. 'Cruella' may be the least formulaic of Disney's modern output, with Estella's dead mother and her cleaning stint the only major tropes included. 'Cruella''s tone swings from feeling tongue-in-cheek to coming across quite seriously.
The first film Disney+ marked with Premier Access was 2020's turkey 'Mulan'. 'Cruella' is not the same situation. A fascinating protagonist, rich supporting cast, astounding visuals, and a rocking soundtrack, all contained within a short runtime, what more do you need?
I give 'Cruella' a 7.3 out of 10, or a B.
'Cruella' is now screening in theatres, and streaming on Disney+ Premier Access. It will be on Disney+, for no extra cost, on the 27th of August.