Mulan brings Disney’s big budget blockbuster remake to the comfort of the home theater for $29.99. Is this remake worth the egregious price? Has Disney taken proper steps in creating an asian female led film? And does the lack of similarity with its 1998 counterpart help or hurt the film?
All these questions and more shall be answered below.
Disney has been on a streak as of late with opening their vault, dusting off an old coin, and creating new money so to speak. With such hits as The Jungle Book (2016), Beauty & the Beast (2017), and The Lion King (2019), Disney has seemingly remade the success of their earlier films with a modern live action coat. However, these were made when every movie theater was open and everyone, more or less, was financially stable. Disney’s Mulan (2020) takes a brave dive into the unknown world for Disney, of the streaming premiere in most domestic markets.
The latest Mulan follows a young woman trying to honor her family, her cultural boundaries, and most importantly, herself. She juggles all of this, while her nation is at war. Similarly to the original, Mulan bravely goes to war in her father’s stead, something that works well in this film. However, as she goes on she finds it increasingly difficult to keep her disguise as a woman from her fellow soldiers. Mulan tells a great story about being a hero, and all that comes with it. At an 1 hour and 56 minutes, Mulan opened on September 4th, 2020, in theaters across the world, including some domestically, and on screens on Disney +.
So, how is it?
The Remake of Mulan is not nearly as lifeless as other Disney live action remakes, but that does not excuse it entirely. Starting with the positives, the film is beautiful. Director Niki Caro and cinematographer Mandy Walker do a fantastic job at shooting this film. The fight sequences move well and constantly give a new view of the action. The costumes by Bina Daigeler look wonderful. From the armor to the robes the costume designers created a living world. Overall the film, akin to most Disney outings, is exceptional to look at.
The performances by the ensemble that includes Donnie Yen, Yoson An, Tzi Ma, and Jet Li are all welcomed and, similar to the film itself, solid. The villain characters of Xianniang(Li Gong) and Böri Khan(Jason Scott Lee) bring a menace that was not seen in the original villain of Shan Yu. Yifei Liu, starring as Mulan, stands out with the material she is given. It is nothing spectacular, but she steps into the shoes of Mulan with a genuine feeling. This leads to the issues in the film.
Mulan suffers the most by the same merits most modern action heroes fall into: they have little personality and even smaller stakes. Dwayne Johnson’s Rampage (2018) is a good example of this, while a lot happens, very little is felt. This is not necessarily an apples to oranges comparison, but the same feeling of emptiness is felt throughout the duration of the film. The third act’s climatic battle in particular feels, when there should be no question of emotional attachment, as if there should be more at stake.
This all comes down to the writing. The original Mulan had characters that she could confide in, such as Eddie Murphy’s Mushu or Cri-Kee, both excluded from the remake. Those characters bring a levity, personality, and humanity to Mulan that is frankly missing here. Li Shang and the side soldier characters are also gone in this, although there are characters that suitably replace all of their roles in this iteration. The huge missing factors are the music and characters such as Mushu that bring this tale some much needed levity.
Some of the fondest childhood memories were brought about singing “Girl Worth Fighting For” and the obvious “Be A Man.” Both songs are missing in this and while they are not necessary, there could have been a hint or nod toward them. If not that then this film should have dared to be completely unlike the past film. Dramatic and dark to the fullest extent. However, there is a nice moment of an instrumental version of one of the original songs that was powerful at a reflexive point for the character of Mulan.
It does not go far enough into serious darkness to justify removing these engaging aspects of music and characters of the original. It also does not have a moment as epic as when Mulan climbs to the top of the wooden pole at the training camp, though there is a similar moment. All in all, Mulan takes the fun of the original out, but does not add the depth necessary to make it a dramatic piece.
VERDICT: 2.5 out of 5
While Mulan could have been groundbreaking, it does not do anything to completely dishonor the source material. The performances, costumes, and cinematography make up for the fallacies or more so that lack of risk of the script. Making this a film worth fighting for.
Overall, Mulan is par for the course. It is no secret that Disney movies will always look good. However, in almost every aspect, Disney could have created something either similar to the original or so different that it becomes something else entirely, but they do not.
A good example of this is the fact that there are no lead asian screenwriters or directors. It is not enough to have an all asian cast today in some regards. With movies like Crazy Rich Asians (2018) or The Farewell (2019) giving opportunities to directors like Jon M. Chu or Lulu Wang is important and speaks volumes in the films both directors created. There is a genuine feeling for culture in those films that Mulan lacks.
This is not with every film of course, and they both have wonderful careers that span beyond their heritage. Though with a film with such history and impact on the asian culture as Mulan, it proved the need for an Asian presence behind the camera to bring a little more to the screen. As it is, the latest Disney remake is just fine.
Is it worth the $29.99 charge?
If you have an entire family, I say watch it because it is most likely cheaper than going to a theater with a family. Though, if it is just yourself or another friend, perhaps wait until it is free on the Disney + streaming platform.