While Mulan won’t have box office to worry about, as the movie is arriving as a premium rental on Disney Plus due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the original animated film was a popular part of Disney’s Renaissance period, and many will be wondering if a modern adaptation will do it justice.
A decade on from the success of Alice In Wonderland, Disney’s recent live-action remakes have been having differing fortunes. While there have been blockbusters like The Lion King and Aladdin, last year’s Dumbo and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil have proven that not every story is a sure-fire hit.
With Mulan, the main plot is broadly similar to its original – in Ancient China, The Emporer (Jet Li) decrees that one man from every family volunteer in the Imperial Army to defend the country from the invading forces of warlord Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee).
Elderly war veteran Hua Zhou (Tzi Ma) volunteers despite ill health, as he has two daughters and no other men in the family. Distressed that he will not survive, his daughter Mulan (Liu Yifei) dresses as a young man and takes her father’s place among the recruits.
While the risk of being discovered is great, it also offers her the opportunity to fulfil her destiny as a great warrior, and unleash the power within her.
New Zealand director Niki Caro (Whale Rider, The Zookeeper’s Wife) visually brings the cartoon to life in the most stunning way, with sets that give a sense of vast scale. The battle scenes are brilliantly choreographed, and the representation of magic within this analogue world feels organic.
In terms of storytelling, the film leaves a bit to be desired.
Like most live-action Disney remakes, the film finds itself in limbo. It can’t be too similar to the original, otherwise why make it, but at the same time if it’s too different you lose the nostalgia that is so important to the appeal of these movies.
Mulan has made more changes than most, chiefly losing beloved talking dragon Mushu, and replacing love interest Li Shang with two characters – fellow soldier Chen Honghui (Yoson An) and Commander Tung (Donnie Yen).
It’s not that these substitutes ruin the film, it’s just that their replacements don’t offer too much of an alternative.
Aside from a couple of longing glances, Mulan and Chen Honghui are basically comrades, which isn’t quite as compelling as a love interest. Equally, while wise-cracking Mushu wouldn’t have worked in a relatively serious film, nodding to the character in the form of a CGI phoenix that appears every now and again seems odd. Instead of trying new things, there’s a void where those much loved moments should be.
One casting that lives up to the past, however, is lead Liu Yifei.
As Mulan, she’s a fearless warrior who believably throws herself into battle, but also conveys the emotional struggles in-between. Shining in both dramatic and comedic sequences, the Chinese-American star embodies the film’s message of being true to yourself, and embracing your power.
Gong Li also impresses as witch Xian Lang, a human alternative to Hayabusa from the animation who has a journey that mirror’s Mulan’s as she joins with Bori Khan in hopes of acceptance.
On the downside, Jet Li’s appearance as The Emperor of China is distracting, mainly because he is very obviously dubbed. It’s a small role but given the legend’s status it feels distracting.
Ultimately, there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with Mulan. It’s a likable adventure film with elegant visuals that showcase what Caro is capable of with a huge budget.
However, it struggles with the same issues that have blighted the other remakes, and a more serious tone that makes you wonder if this really is the Disney family spectacular that many were hoping for.
Mulan is released on Disney Plus tomorrow.
Credit: Original article published here.