Zebra’s review published on Letterboxd:
I'm just getting started, darling.
Let's hope not. Cruella tries to be a lot of things, and despite its best efforts, fails to succeed at any of them. Unfortunately for the scattered debris of an entirely different and far better film that can be found throughout, Cruella is all predicated on a simple, baseline notion that constantly seeks to throw it off the rails. The fact that it's about Cruella. To start your film with the only point of note being that your character is inherently evil, it's going to take a lot of legwork to not only tackle the challenge of telling a cohesive origin story that connects to the film we know, but also to even make this character a sympathetic protagonist in any way.
It's a tough line to walk in theory, but in practice, it seems Disney has opted to just attack both sides at random. It sprints back and forth between the progression from budding fashion designer to evil incarnate and the tragically sad story of an orphan with her ragtag street family. The dichotomy is exhausting, and it can barely keep up with itself trying to balance these two things. Combine this with constant diversions to connect threads to the original and you end up with a disappointing piece of cinema that's 30 minutes longer than it needs to be.
In its scattered attempts to flood the film with such an incredible number of things, it forgets to actually develop any of them. Eventually, having spent so much time crafting the spunky, street orphan Estella, the film decides its time for Cruella to show up. So she does, with a weak catalyst and little explanation as to how the sudden heel turn has been earned in any way. So now Cruella has arrived, co-opting a gritty punk aesthetic with none of the ethos. While there may be something to be said for the way it pits a burgeoning lower class against the seemingly unstoppable bourgeois elite, when all of that conflict is centered around a personal story of revenge and never seeks to actually speak to this conflict in a meaningful way, it loses all steam, and its punk aesthetic feels appropriated and empty.
In between the cracks is a better film. A film that doesn't necessitate forcing an endpoint leading to a malicious, dog-skinning villain. A film that stands on its own, a 70s punk romp about a rising fashion movement that seeks to topple the stuffy, stale style of the elite. A film that's actually punk, with a punk heart and a punk ethos (though asking Disney to make a film that embodies the heart and soul of punk is probably an exercise in futility). A film with all of the production and costume design with none of the miserable CGI. A film with banger hard rock needle drops that aren't just terrible covers. But that's not what this film is. It's a film about Cruella. And as a film about Cruella, it's just terrible.