“A refreshing view of the live action Disney film sub-genre”
(Special thanks to the folks at Disney for the early screener!)
The live action Disney remakes (Jungle Book, Aladdin, Maleficent) have had a rather rocky track record. Some have been ok, but the general consensus is more in the form of a question asked by critics and fans alike… “Why is Disney remaking classics?” For me personally, I found most of these films to be rather dull and dragging out the story past the point of interest. In the case of Mulan’s live action re-imagining, I am happy to say this is the best one yet. While loosely based on the classic 1998 film, this film follows the tone of the original story of Chinese folklore “The Ballad of Mulan." If you don’t know the story, it follows “A young Chinese maiden named Mulan who joins the Chinese army (in secret) to prevent her elder father from going.” Even though it’s sounding much like the original film, this is a much more grounded take.
Most live-action Disney films focus on being comedic and forcing fans to feed on nostalgia— but this one is different. Director Niki Caro (Whale Rider, Macfarland, USA, The Zookeeper's Wife) sets out to make a film emphasizing the theme of female empowerment. Simultaneously, Caro creates an immersive world that expresses just how rich the story of Mulan is. Between keeping the innocence of the protagonist and essentially creating a war film in the process, this makes “Mulan” a unique take on a familiar story. Once Mulan is a part of the chinese army, we get action and general settings unlike anything we’ve seen. A word that can best describe this is scope, since we as an audience feel the massiveness of the locations. The imagery both inside battles and even in simple conversations is incredibly thrilling to watch.
Led by newcomer Yifei Liu as Mulan, the cast here is quite unique and incredibly effective in their roles. Especially with Liu, she commits to the role and creates a strong female figure for young girls. That’s a hard feat to accomplish, but she does well balancing the action and strength of the character. Thankfully, Liu is surrounded by an array of talent including kung-fu stars and all around great actors. The supporting cast which includes Donnie Yen, Jet Li and famed chinese actors Gong Lee and Jason Lee Scott as newly written villains, and Tzi Mai as Mulan's father get effective moments. A lot of that praise must be placed on Caro as the one behind the camera. In the films one hour and 55 minute runtime, she effectively conveys the tone of an epic.
Though it is more effective than not, Mulan does not come without a few problems. What keeps it from being a perfect reimagining is the mere fact of the studio behind it. Being a Disney film, there are moments that are meant for laughs and moments of endearment. Moments like this are where the film falls flat. It is in these moments where the film tries to have something to say about war culture, but it comes as something out of place. Now the real qualm I have here is the fact that Disney is requiring users on their Disney+ service to pay an additional 30 dollars to unlock it. That amount is included on top of their monthly subscription and for that price, I don’t see this being worth it. Since the film will be released on the service for free in December, I would highly encourage you to wait until then. Nonetheless, this is an effective and exciting reimagining that is rather entertaining from start to finish.