MichaelEternity’s review published on Letterboxd:
Had at-best medium hopes for this - it'll be fine, probably a lot of empty style, but who cares about "101 Dalmatians", Disney's prior classic villain-retcon job was atrocious ("Maleficent") and did we have to wait 2 whole years to see Emma Stone again just for this? - but came out an electrified convert. On top of a glorious blizzarding aesthetic of '60s mod and '70s glam swirled with bold color-coded everythingness, editing elegance that refines every last centimeter of timing, pace and gesture into pearls of comic exactitude and theatrical gusto, creamy full-throttle performances by the two Emmas that seem to combine just about everything you've loved about all their previous roles, a top-dollar jukebox soundtrack wallpapering that's so relentless it achieves a next-level audio-sensory status (how can you centipede needle drops for an entire two and a half hours? Your move, all future movies), and such extensive story revision on this IP that it made me actually care about an old cartoon villain in an entirely new context, this is also a hopefully influential demonstration of how to make these Disney live-action remakes of their catalog a little unique and satisfying.
None of the others so far ("Beauty and the Beast", "Lion King", "Cinderella", "Mulan", "Aladdin" etc.) have gone this ostentatious, seemed to have nearly this much fun, nor deviated from their playbooks as far. "Cruella" works pretty much independently of the franchise to which it technically belongs, and isn't that the dream of these cash-in recycles for us viewers? To watch another version of the same old thing that doesn't feel like we're watching basically the same version of the same old thing? There is true bravado and excellent craftsmanship to this. Even while acknowledging plenty of things that aren't great about it, I'm genuinely impressed and more importantly, enchanted.
I've heard that one reason people haven't been as enthusiastic about this movie as I am is because all its bells and whistles and charms are being wasted on a "101 Dalmatians" story, instead of employing these talented people for something of more distinguished value. As I said before, I couldn't care less about that decent yet inessential animated film from 1961, never even saw the popular first remake in 1996 with Glenn Close, and have certainly never read the book it was all based on (didn't even know there was one until recently).
But for one thing, these remakes are happening and will continue and shall dominate culture for a spell each time one comes out, because that's the ruling in our totalitarian Disney..world, as it were. What are we gonna do about it, bitch and moan every time or be open and receptive to silver linings and adapt to changing circumstances? What comes out of all Hollywood factories has always been decided by monetary potential, so there's nothing newly or especially evil about Disney realizing they could re-package their old hits in a different way. The original stories they tried didn't make much money so they're emphasizing these remakes for a while. So for lack of as many other studio-funded options, this is where talent will be drawn to for work. Sometimes they might choose the right stars and have a pretty cool idea for how to make one and we'll get a winner like "Cruella" and that shouldn't be marginalized, I think. Let's be real, all films now are repeating the same stories that have been re-told for centuries. Show me a truly original mainstream movie and I'll show you how it's derivative of some text or older art or another. To borrow that over-used Ebert adage, it's not about what the movie is about, it's about how it's about it. And whatever people want to say about similarities here to "Joker" or "The Devil Wears Prada", or Disney having no soul or whatever, "Cruella" is one hell of a slice of pure cinema. But also with great actors doing great work, an endearing ensemble around them, a long-range and morally complex story, and even an improbable hint (best left unexplored, but I reckon that's not the plan) that this treatment of Cruella De Vil won't have to include the same eventual outcome that we know from previous films (that she decides to kidnap and kill puppies but gets thwarted). As of this film and this film only, it could be its own self-contained tale (try to consider that mid-credits bit simply ambiguous).
But either way, there's so much to like about this that at some point while watching it became irrelevant that it's based on stuff that already exists. Who cares? Who decides what kinds of movies should matter more anyway? Who are these gatekeepers and do they really have the purest interests of movies at heart? I say "Cruella" deserves to be loved, period. So, so, so many movies have been loved for so much less.