4th September 2020 (Disney+)
A young Chinese maiden disguises herself as a male warrior in order to save her father. A live-action feature film based on Disney's 'Mulan.'
Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Li Gong, Jet Li, Jason Scott Lee
I have to confess: I’ve never held Disney’s 1998 animated Mulan in high regard.
Despite its popularity with my generation, it never connected with me. The animation is gorgeous and I’m more than happy to compliment it’s two standout songs (Reflection and I’ll Make a Man Out of You) but I feel it’s perhaps the weakest of Disney’s famous renaissance period. It certainly didn’t help that I only saw it as an adult of course, so I have zero nostalgic attachment with the film. But even so I found Mulan an uneven fit for the Disney mould, the story feeling much more grounded and historical (although it is a fictional legend) than the majority of other fairy tales the house of mouse produce. The same issue can be seen in Pocahontas (which again features fantastic songs), where the more sensitive subject matter ideally needs more depth than Disney can dish out.
Along with the confession of my controversial opinion of Mulan, I’ll also give some context to my feelings regarding Disney’s latest trend of live action remakes. If I’m speaking frank, I despise them and find their existence actively offensive. Watered down nonsense of beloved classics that offer nothing of worth, often retconning nonexistent “troubling” aspects of the originals by force feeding you a woke message with as much subtly as the Las Vegas strip.
So with such a hateful view already preempted, it comes somewhat as a surprise that I think 2020’s Mulan is satisfactory… I guess.
By that I can confidently state that Mulan is the best of the live action remakes I’ve seen. I think it was a smart idea to drop the musical aspect and go for a (somewhat) more grounded approach to the story. It separates it that little bit more from its animated counterpart. It doesn’t stop the song “Reflection” appearing in the score at rousing moments for that nostalgia kick, but more often than not it works just fine. I’m just thankful we’re not hearing the same songs being sung by auto-tuned celebrities over actual Broadway stars (I’m looking at you, Beauty and the Beast & Aladdin).
Mulan is also an incredibly pretty film to look at. Cinematography, costume and production design are all top notch, and the location shooting is beautiful to say the least. It doesn’t reach the heights of something like the Oscar-Winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Jet Li’s Hero, but it attempts a similar lavish look and largely succeeds.
An attempt is made too in the action set pieces, which actually feel decently choreographed by modern Disney standards. The cast are overall rather good and feel determined in their roles. Although Mulan herself (Yifei Liu; The Forbidden Kingdom, The Third Way of Love) felt moderately lifeless until the end, with the supporting cast, especially Tzi Ma (The Farewell, Arrival) impressing the most as Mulan’s prideful father.
Everything works about as well as the original animated film for me – which is to say with extreme mediocrity. I was very happy that it separated itself tonally by dropping the songs to make it feel different, but hugely disappointed that it follows all the same plot beats and set pieces of its animated counterpart. There really is no getting past the pointlessness of it all unfortunately. Just like all the other live action remakes. If you’ve seen 1998s Mulan, you’ve already seen 2020s Mulan. I just happen to feel less attached to Mulan overall, so am more indifferent to its pedestrian outcome.
There are a few small new elements, the most significant being a new, shape-shifting villain by the name of Xianniang who teams up with diabolical Bori Khan (who is essentially Shang from the original). They feel mildly more threatening than the original Shang, and Xianniang is given something approaching depth. Half-heartedly at least, because outside of the aesthetic look, they are mostly uninteresting.
Perhaps I should address the elephant in the room. Strange that asking “which elephant?” Is a legitimate question concerning this release of Mulan amongst all things. I’m talking about the Disney+ elephant and nothing else. Regarding any political controversy that may or may not exist (Editor’s note: He’s being coy. It most certainly does exist), I’m happy to say I’m supremely uninterested and find it effortless to separate art from the artist. But being forced to spend £20 on top of a Disney+ streaming service is a hefty price to pay to sit at home for a film you’ve more than likely already seen. Especially when a significant amount of the enjoyment would come from seeing it big and loud. As much as I can spout about it’s mediocrity, 2020s Mulan feels like it should be seen in a cinema. It’s a big, sweeping blockbuster movie that doesn’t have the same effect on a 40 inch T.V. It doesn’t feel special. Whether Disney made a mistake by not releasing Mulan in cinemas is up for debate, but I can’t help but wonder: if you gave people the choice by simultaneously releasing it in theatres and on Disney+, would cinema attendance really be vastly affected? My suspicion is not, and I feel it would have done as decent business as current times allowed.
But the question of whether Mulan is worth such a high price tag on Disney+ depends on a lot of things. If you’ve enjoyed Disney’s other live action remakes it’s likely you’ll enjoy this one too, yet I would still argue £20 on top of a paid monthly or annual subscription is much too expensive and hard to recommend. Especially with an inevitable DVD release not far off and, for those with more patience, availability of the film for no extra cost from December 2020. It makes much more sense if you were to watch it as a family, especially as venturing outside is still difficult, to save money by watching it at home. But if that isn’t your situation you would have to be the most die-hard of Disney fans to warrant this purchase.
Mulan is available to stream for £19.99 exclusively with a Disney+ subscription
Beautiful production qualities
Commendable attempt to differ tonally to the original
It's the same film as its source material. Again.