Disney has been evolving their animated catalog to live-action films for almost a decade now. There have been wins such as ‘The Jungle Book’, a lot of decent adaptations such as ‘Aladdin’, ‘Beauty & The Beast’ or ‘Cinderella’, and misfires like ‘Dumbo’ or ‘The Lion King’. We now have a list of films that all have taken different approaches to these iconic Disney stories, and now ‘Mulan’ is among of the more bold and unique approaches we’ve encountered to date. Directed by Niki Caro, this is a retelling of the ‘legend’ of Hua Mulan (played by Yifei Liu) who took her fathers place in the war set in ancient China. When it was first announced, I was perplexed to find out that this retelling would forgo the iconic music, opting for score driven themes. Additionally, a notable character from the original version, ‘Mushu’ (voiced by Eddie Murphy), had been omitted in a bold choice to focus on more serious themes and a tone that separates itself from its predecessor. Withholding judgment, I went into the film with an open mind, and was pleasantly surprised by this cinematic beauty with a strong heroine that both little girls and little boys can look up to.
I believe next to ‘The Jungle Book’ this is Disney’s best live-action remake to date. It’s visually stunning, with impressive cinematography by Mandy Walker. You get a lot of visual parallels to some of the greatest kung fu films like ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’, ‘Hero’, with very stylized action and impressive fight choreography. The production design is great, in addition to the costumes that feel incredibly authentic to ancient China.
Initially I was a little sad about the omitting of ‘Mushu’ and other fantastical elements of the film, but I do feel for the tone and story the director was aiming towards including them would completely upend the films intentions. There are new characters included in this telling, Donnie Yen plays the leader of Mulans military branch, Commander Tung. This changes the character dynamic of Mulan and Honghui, who was the commander in the animated version. While I like Donnie Yen and feel he can only enhance a film he is present in, I don’t feel like the story serviced him at all, and I would’ve liked more or a clear reason why he was included and Honghui demoted. As well the main villain known in this as Böri Khan, has a second in command sorcerer known as Xianniang (played by Li Gong). Her performance was very good and I liked the scenes between her and Mulan and how she tested Mulans character.
There are a lot of things that Mulan does very well in this film. She is a character that much like Wonder Woman, can hold her own and has powerful moments of feminism. Sometimes you do wish there was more of a threat to the character that feels weighted and that might physically challenge the character more, but this is a Disney film, not a hard-gripping drama and should be looked at through that lens. The ending does come rather abruptly and I wish it took more time fleshing it out to feel more satisfying, but that doesn’t take away from the powerful message Mulan has.
Overall, I’m giving ‘Mulan’ an 6.5/10