Mulan

I tolerated Mulan. Disney’s latest live-action reimagining of one of their animated films is based on the 1998 release. The new version is not bad, so there’s no need to beat up a movie that has already experienced a problematic route to the public. Mulan‘s Hollywood premiere was held on March 9, 2020. The theatrical release was delayed multiple times before finally being released 6 months later on September 4. Mulan is currently available to people who subscribe to Disney+ but only if you pay an additional premium fee of $29.99. Disney is nothing if not a business.

The story of a heroine who disguises herself so she can fight alongside the men is the sort of girl-power anthem that should inspire and uplift. Yet her journey is strangely lacking in emotion here. I did not feel the empathy that her fable should have inspired. I try to judge these live-action adaptations separately from their sources but that can be difficult. That these are indeed remakes is simply a fact that cannot be ignored. I mostly enjoy them to varying degrees. Dumbo was a colossal misfire in 2019 but I was entertained by their versions of Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin.

Of course, the main focus is the same, but this version changes a lot from its inspiration. The narrative is missing that spark which is odd because the cartoon is overflowing in that department. There is no humor. The mood is gravely serious. The fact that this is not a musical is noticeably felt. Big mistake. The atmosphere could use some levity or uplift. The score seems to almost acknowledge this when notes from the tune “Reflection” pop up in the score. Fans of the classic will recognize the interpolation but it’s quite subtle. Characters are removed. The wisecracking dragon sidekick Mushu didn’t make the cut. That makes perfect sense given the somber spirit, but Li Shang — the stern captain of the Imperial Army and Mulan’s mentor — is excised as well. His purpose is replaced by two individuals: Commander Tung (Donnie Yen ) and Chen Honghui (Yoson An).

A star-studded cast attempts to make up for what has been erased starting with actress Liu Yifei as the star. Although lesser known in the West, she is a recognizable celebrity in China. The rest of the ensemble includes Donnie Yen (Commander Tung), Jason Scott Lee (the main Rouran warrior), Jet Li (The Emperor), Tzi Ma (Mulan’s father), Rosalind Chao (Mulan’s mother), and most notably Gong Li. Her Xian Lang is a new addition, a shape-shifting witch with a surprisingly affecting backstory. I enjoyed her charismatic portrayal a lot. This deviation from the official account caused me to rethink that I might have appreciated a fresh epic and not something trying to recreate the animated feature. These remakes are big business though. My preference might not have been as monetarily successful but it would’ve been more satisfying.

Mulan looks fantastic, but lacks emotional weight. I’ve been a fan of New Zealand director Niki Caro ever since she helmed Whale Rider in 2002. That uplifting tale of a girl succeeding where only males had before is thematically similar to this one. Whale Rider had me weeping uncontrollably. You’d think Caro would be a perfect fit for extracting the depth required to make this tale affecting, but I could barely muster up a shrug after this was over. I can’t deny this glorious spectacle won’t satisfy a cinematic need. The saga is presented with technical skill and beautiful images. The production is unquestionably a gorgeous manifestation of the original. So there’s that. If you’re looking for something that feels like an epic, this will satisfy that thirst. Yet I felt nothing. It’s requiring more personality. It dutifully recreates the basic storyline but without the heart and humor. The characters are dreary. Mulan feels more like a meticulously recreated piece of product from the Disney factory and not a stirring legend based on centuries-old folklore.

09-04-20

2 Responses to “Mulan”

  1. I have not seen the cartoon version yet. So this was fresh to me. I liked it, but it did not feel like a Disney movie to me. It didn’t have that Disney magic. I agree that it was a bit dreary, could’ve used more fun. 3 1/2 stars

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