After months of anticipation and countless date changes, the live action remake of the 1998 “Mulan” hit Disney+ for the price of $30. “Mulan,” directed by Niki Caro, like the original movie from 1998, follows the title character as she sneaks into the Chinese army dressed as a man in place of her father. In this movie, instead of the Huns, China is at war with the Rouran who are led by Böri Khan and a witch, who Mulan might have more in common with than others know.
The live-action “Mulan” uses this different media type to its advantage by featuring gorgeous sets and landscapes as well as beautiful costumes. While many of the sets are CGI, they still highlight the beauty of China and its architecture. The various outfits throughout the movie are more accurate to Chinese fashion from that time period and are incredibly detailed and dazzling. The most beautiful element of the movie was a graceful phoenix, who took the place of Mushu in the story, who was Mulan’s spirit guardian.
Unlike many of the other live-action Disney movie adaptations that very often follow the same beats as the original movie, “Mulan” tries to distance itself from the original by going in a more serious direction and including magical elements. While I can appreciate the attempt, this leaves the movie with little personality and character development for many of the characters.
Although this movie still has Mulan’s story involving what society expects of a woman, it diverts from the original after that. Unlike Ming-Na Wen’s Mulan, who doesn’t have a sense of identity in the beginning and has to go on a journey to discover her self worth and who she is outside of societal expectations, Liu Yifei’s Mulan knows who she is initially and just has to learn she doesn’t have to hide that from anyone. Despite this adding to the stakes of the movie, it didn’t provide for much character development.
Along with her being naturally a great fighter, therefore not really having to learn the value of discipline and perseverance, and lacking the original’s cunning wit, Liu Yifei’s Mulan is awfully bland and static.
Adding to this problem was the pacing of the movie. “Mulan” tended to go slow in places it should have been faster and fast in places it should have been slower. This took away the weight from scenes that should have had more importance to the movie. Scenes such as Mulan deciding to go to the army and her reveal to the commander seemed like afterthoughts, which took away from the feeling of “epic-ness” the original mastered so well and just made the movie more anti-climatic.
There were some new elements that did enhance the story though. They expanded the role of the antagonists in the movie which added to the stakes of the movie. The addition of the witch and the element of magic, or “chi,” made for an interesting statement about the double standards women have to face in society.
One aspect of this new “Mulan” that made the movie somewhat confusing was how many metaphors it chose to include.. While this worked sometimes, like in the example with the “chi,” they often got mixed or canceled each other out, making the movie more confusing or lessening the impact of the scenes in which they are featured.
Despite these many, many issues, I will say I still enjoyed my viewing of the movie. If you try to forget about the original movie and don’t think too hard about it, you may be able to just enjoy “Mulan” for its stunning visuals and cool fight scenes.
Is it worth $30? I’d say if you have been looking forward to seeing it, you are a fan of the other Disney live-action remakes, and you are just starved for new, movie theater worthy content, it is worth the watch. However, if none of those things apply to you, I would just hold off until December when it is regularly streaming on Disney+.
Does it bring honor to the original? Not quite, but it is still a decent film on its own merit.