Mulan is the latest Disney live-action remake that is not playing in theaters in the U.S. right now. The film is based on the Ballad of Hua Mulan where a young girl joins the Imperial Chinese army disguised as a man in order to protect her aging father and ends up saving China.
These Disney live-action remakes have a tough line to tow, especially for those who grew up watching the iconic Disney animated films that make up the “Disney Renaissance”. They need to stay true to the original animated film, but not be exact copies of them. I haven’t really been a huge fan of Disney live-action remakes, only Cinderella and The Jungle Book had impressed me thus far.
Mulan is one of my favorite animated Disney movies, it’s up there with original Aladdin for me. And I was excited to hear that this is film is not a carbon copy of the original and would be based more on the legend. But though this film feels tonally different from the animated film, it still had too many familiar story beats, which failed make it stand out.
A change that I really enjoyed was the new antagonist, a witch named Xian Lang (Gong Li). She turned out to be a really good foil to Mulan (Yifei Liu). However, I do wish she was the main antagonist or at least given some more character depth. She is single-handedly winning this war for the Rouran’s warriors that want to take over China, but she is not given the respect she deserves due to her being a woman and a witch and she does not stand up to them.
Something I was not a fan of, is that they basically made Mulan a superhero. Granted she does not have magical powers like the witch does, but she can due to impossible things because of her chi. I am by no means an expert on chi, but I know that’s how Iron Fist has his super powers. It’s stated in the film, that everyone has chi, however it seems that only Mulan and the witch use it in this film. Mulan is not a superhero and every time she defies of the laws of physics, I was taken out of the film.
I also liked that they gave Mulan a younger sister. The sister does not play a big role in the film, but you see that Mulan greatly cares about her, so I did liked that added family dynamic. I wished they included the grandma character in the animated film though.
The comedic moments of the film don’t really work. They mostly come from Mulan’s soldier friends which I am glad they included in this film, but it clashes with the darker tone and changes they made for this film. You don’t get to experience the camaraderie between all of them, so these moments of friendship feel shallow and unearned.
Donnie Yen is basically given Li Shang’s role as he is Mulan’s commander. He gets to show off a bit and does some martial arts in the film, which I’m always down to see. He is not Mulan’s love interest in the film, but a soldier named Chen Honghui (Yoson An) is given that opportunity, though it seemed to me that Mulan did not reciprocate his feelings.
I must also admit, I wasn’t a big fan of the acting in this film, especially from Mulan herself. I think it mostly had to do with the line delivery. One scene that stuck out to me was when Mulan is trying to comfort her soldier friends before heading into war. She says to them that she will protect them and she promises they’ll all make it out alive, however her words sound hollow, not to mention they are unrealistic.
And why I understand why the songs were not in this film, I missed them. Mulan’s soundtrack is not on the same level as The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast by any means, but “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” is iconic and should be treated as such. They are incorporated in the score though, which I appreciated.
They also changed the dragon symbol to a phoenix and while I understand the symbolism of the phoenix, it didn’t really add anything to the film. If they explained more of the meaning behind the phoenix, then seeing it would have more of an impact. The phoenix appears for Mulan whenever she needs guidance, but the bird does not help her in any tangible way, it just flies around.
Overall, I would place this remake on par with Aladdin’s live action remake. I enjoyed it enough, since it had a different tonal feel and the new character of the witch. However, I will probably have no desire see this film again and would rather re-watch the animated version, as it is with most Disney live-action remakes.
I give Mulan a C+