Earlier this month I was prepared to watch the new live-action version of Mulan, which is based on the 1998 animated film. Those plans changed however due to the coronavirus pandemic that is currently happening in America, which resulted in nationwide theater closures and a suspended release date for the new Mulan. As bummed as I was, I did see a silver lining in this, which was allowing me to rewatch the original Mulan (1998) and give a review for it here on The Legionnaire. Was the ‘98 version still a classic Disney hit? As usual always let’s find out.
Set during the Northern and Southern dynasties of China, the story in Mulan follows Fa Mulan (Ning-Na Wen), a young woman who wants nothing but to bring honor to her family. She gets discouraged, however, after she fails to impress a matchmaker who proclaims that she wouldn’t make a decent bride for a man. Meanwhile, an army of Huns slowly invades China, which forces the Emperor of China (Pat Morita) to gather more support from local Chinese villages. One of these villages includes Mulan’s. Unfortunately, because her father is the only male representative of the Fa household he has no choice but to serve. Afraid that her father would quickly perish in battle due to his frail condition, Mulan makes the ultimate sacrifice by taking his sword and armor and takes his place in the Chinese army. From there Mulan faces several challenges such as learning the basics of war and impressing the new captain. She needs to do this to be able to continue on through training while at the same time maintaining a male persona so no one can figure out who she really is.
When I first saw Mulan at a young age, I thought this is one of the best Disney movies that I had seen. After re-watching it as an adult, however, and becoming more critical when it comes to viewing films, I quickly found myself disappointed as this wasn’t as great as I remembered. It’s still very enjoyable, but unfortunately it has flaws that I can’t ignore.
The one thing that I didn’t notice until recently rewatching Mulan was that it doesn’t have great pacing. While I know for an animated movie you have to move things fast due to these types of films having a short time-length, but to me I thought it moved a little too fast as it doesn’t leave much room for stronger character development. While I like the character of Mulan and admire her bravery for taking her dad’s place, there isn’t much that I can say about her and I felt that with better pacing they could’ve given her better character arc. Hopefully the live action adaptation will give her character more growth.
Aside from the pacing, one positive aspect the I didn’t notice before in Mulan was the power of prayer. For us Catholics, prayer is our best tool to communicate with God. While that type of prayer isn’t exactly represented here in this film, it was nice to see characters in a film (especially in an animated one) praying in their time of need. While prayer wasn’t the main focus of the film, it was good to see a film start off with someone praying and another scene with Mulan praying to her ancestors before she goes off to war.
Overall, Mulan isn’t the classic that I remember, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a highly enjoyable film. There are great scenes of action and intense situations that I do appreciate, and songs that l can’t help but sing along to (especially the song “Be a Man”). The biggest question now is will this remain more memorable than the live action version? Only time will tell, but in the meantime I’ll just enjoy the one we have now.