Now that Disney+ has removed the undeserved, hefty price tag off of their latest live action remake, I felt it deserved its chance to be seen.
The announcement to pull its release from theatres all over the world, was given quite the sour response. Not only from those wanting to return to the theatres after a long break, but the companies who were desperately awaiting the nod to reopen their doors. Especially for a big release such as this. It was a big blow at the time, and it’s a decision that could turn the tide in the future for film releases.
Anyway, enough of all that, Let’s Get Down to Business… (pun intended).
The first thing we think about when we see these remakes, is how does it hold up against the original material. It’s not as if we’re even doing it intentionally, but it has become an instant knee jerk reaction, as for most of us, we grew up with these movies. But unlike most of the reworks I’ve seen from Disney so far, Mulan (1998) is one I’m actually not all that familiar with. I’m sure I’ve seen it at some point, certainly my younger years, but I couldn’t tell you much from base level of what really happens. Which made for a nice change heading into Niki Caro’s reimagined direction.
First things first, the musical numbers are gone. All of them. Which feels like a bold move, especially when you consider just how timeless many of the songs are. It’s even a key part of Disney’s ethos and what they build much of their stories around. It’s a more stripped down version that relies on it’s more human like characteristics. Yet bafflingly, they’ve still included some magical elements, which just so happens to push the more realistic tone they’ve gone for, completely out of the picture.
Secondly, Mushu the sidekick dragon, is also no more. Voiced in the original by Eddie Murphy of course. This fun, goofy little mascot was a favourite amongst fans, and his disappearance in this title is one of the more outlandish decisions that was made prior to filming.
So, what actually does work? Well, it’s visually vibrant and almost every scene and big set piece, pops. The gorgeous backdrop of ancient China is perfectly implemented with it, and the rich Chinese heritage which surrounds the narrative, is brought to the scene in such a grand scale.
Taking the acting helm is Yifei Liu. Playing the title character, she brings a likeness to the lead, and radiates the confidence needed to take the central role. Mulan’s motives are clear from the get go, and sets off on an empowering journey to fight for not only her Emperor, but what she believes in. She’s the strongest component not only with story (obviously), but her portrayal stands out amongst the rest.
Martial arts legends Donnie Yen and Jet LI (who I shamefully didn’t even recognise) also join the fray. Although aren’t awarded the same opportunities they’re usually given to show off their skills. Another missed marker that they had in the palm of their hands.
Coming off of that though, the woeful wire work really doesn’t do this film any justice. It’s not alien to anyone that wires are often used for stunts and fight choreography. But it’s implementation for a majority of its high octane sequences, dampens the otherwise lively atmosphere that this film works so hard to build up. The cheap gimmick overshadows the impressive visuals, and that is a damn shame.
Mulan does very little to invigorate, despite having the ingredients to make something special. Too many aspects were taken away from its animated clone, and the stripped bare approach they took with this iteration, will forever baffle me. Despite it being a reawakening for 90’s kids, it is still a movie aimed at the younger generation, and once you peel away much of the magic, you’re kind of left with something that doesn’t entirely know where it belongs.