Release Date: September 4, 2020
Runtime: 115 mins
Directed by: Niki Caro
Starring: Yifei Liu
The Disney live-action remakes are usually something I try to avoid. I had an excellent theater experience with “Beauty and the Beast” and I remember thinking “The Jungle Book” was fine, but in general these remakes seem to be lazy cash grabs to capitalize off of nostalgia. I felt this aversion the most with the remakes of “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” since I was relatively attached to the original versions. Everything from the trailers to the soundtracks measured up rather poorly in comparison to those original movies. The 1998 animated “Mulan” was never one of my favorites growing up, but I always enjoyed it. I was not outright offended when the live-action “Mulan” remake was announced and trailers dropped, but I definitely had no intention of seeing it.
Disney had been planning on releasing the live action “Mulan” in theaters earlier this year, but COVID-19 ruined those plans. Instead of waiting for theaters to reopen, Disney decided to release “Mulan” on Disney Plus to $30 premium subscribers. I was not interested in shelling out more money than I currently have in my checking account to watch a movie I had low expectations for. However, my brother and sister-in-law were in town, some friends of theirs shared their premium account information and my family was able to watch it together.
The first thing lovers of the animated “Mulan” should know before going into the remake is that this is not a musical. You might hear an orchestral rendition of “Reflection,” but it will not be sung by any of the characters. Another thing to note is that Mushu is not in this movie.
That being said, as a remake, “Mulan” 2020’s main accomplishment seems to be leaving me with a greater appreciation for “Mulan” 1998. The remake has fewer memorable characters in comparison to the original. This is partly because of the benefits animation brings to character design, but this does not excuse the fact that all of the soldiers Mulan is serving with, save maybe one, are practically indistinguishable from each other. In similar scenes, I did not feel the same emotional impact or kinetic energy in the remake as I did in the original. For example, the training montage during “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” in the animated version is less energetic and serves less of a purpose in the remake.
One addition the remake makes which I thought almost worked was the presence of another female warrior character who works for the villain. Without saying too much because it is the best scene in the movie, there is a moment on a mountaintop when this new character challenges Mulan’s perspectives. I was intrigued and found myself wondering where the movie would take this new plotline. I was disappointed when nothing came of it.
The thing that struck me most about “Mulan” as a film was how fake and computer-generated many things looked. The giant cartoon bird which follows Mulan around, the “The Matrix” style bullet-time effect and the climax set-piece all took me out of the movie. It was to the point where I started to wonder why this remake itself was not animated.
There are quite a few action scenes in “Mulan.” They are obviously heavily inspired by movies like “Hero” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” However, those movies are edited in a way so the audience has a clear view of the action whereas “Mulan” is not. It is often cut in a way that made me believe stunt doubles were being used. I read that the actors trained for months to prepare for their roles. With the abundance of CGI and the rapid editing during action scenes, I was not able to tell.
This movie is not worth $30. Unless you really cannot wait to see it, I would recommend waiting until it is released to regular Disney Plus subscribers in December.