Mulan (2020) is a live-action adaptation of the 1998 Disney animation of the same name, the latest in the live-action remakes of Disney classics based on a young woman who disguises herself as a male soldier to save her father.
I’ll start with an admission: I’ve never seen the original animated Mulan. Despite being an avid Disney fan, growing up living and breathing everything Disney, somehow as an eleven-year-old when it was first released Mulan just passed me by and has carried on doing so in the 20+ years since. Unlike the other live-action Disney remakes in which I had so many preconceptions and so much love for the originals, I went into Mulan entirely open and with no expectations. This I hoped would prove to be a benefit when watching this remake, however, I’m afraid to say that it actually may have put me at even more of a disadvantage.
The biggest issue with this film is that it is entirely lacking in everything you’d usually expect from an animated Disney film and what I don’t doubt is present in the 1998 original. Disney films are full of heart, laughter, cutesy creatures and catchy songs with an underlying serious plot with more menace and threat than you’d expect. This remake appears to have removed everything you know and love about Disney and replaced it with a very serious, very drawn out and actually quite dull plot. Yes, there is still the good message in here that hopefully will motivate young women, but it’s lost behind a film that is severely lacking in any real spirit or character.
Yifei Liu does well as Mulan, at least with what she’s given to work with as far as the script goes. However, she really suffers with the romance side, as there is zero chemistry between Mulan and Honghui, even with Yoson An’s charismatic performance. Jet Li is barely recognisable as the Emperor and Donnie Yen really needed to channel more of his Rogue One character to lighten the mood. Even the villains, Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee) and Xianniang (Li Gong) have little to work with, with Xianniang’s witch being let down by the most by the poor writing and character development.
The cast however aren’t really at fault here. The film looks good, the sets and costumes are impressive and everything feels lush and colourful. However, I felt the action scenes had been so obviously ‘Disney-fied’ that they lost all sense of fun and, well, action. They felt over choreographed and with a large amount of fight scenes in this, the lack of proper violence and blood was far too obvious. And the over-used slow-motion alongside some questionable CGI was unbearable. Considering they wanted to make this a more accurate and serious Disney adaptation, it’s a shame they didn’t go far enough to make the action a little more adult.
I really wanted to like this, but for me, it was just severely deficient in anything that makes a Disney film likeable. Had I seen the original, it may have at least brought some form of love and nostalgia. However all this has succeeded in doing is making me want to watch the original, both as a comparison and for some much-needed fun and laughter.