Mulan (2020), by Cameron J. Czaja

After watching the CGI remake of The Lion King (2019), Aladdin (2019), and Dumbo (2019) last year I’ve come to the conclusion that Disney remakes are inevitable and I just have to just accept them. Despite all that, one Disney live action remake that I was intrigued about was the live action Mulan because of the potential it had. However because of COVID-19, which is a phrase I’ve said in previous reviews and will continue to say in future ones, this film was delayed and Disney was unsure when they were going to release it until recently. The good news is that its available to watch on Disney+. The bad news is that you have spend an additional $30 to watch it, however you can watch it as much as you like as long as you’re Disney+ account is active. Is the extra surcharge worth it? Let’s find out.  Also, I apologize in advance if I make several comparisons to this film and it’s animated counterpart. 

If you’re familiar with the 1998 animated version of Mulan, then the overall premise for Mulan 2020 is basically the same. A young woman by the name of Hua Mulan (Yifei Liu) takes her father’s place in the Chinese Army when foreign invaders start taking over parts of China. Unlike the animated film, though, the live action Mulan takes a different approach to the plot (for better or for worse) which, in my opinion, is the best thing going for this film. 

I’ll just say this to get it out of the way: if you’re expecting a live action Mulan film with a wise cracking dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy and a soundtrack full of memorable songs to singalong to then you’re going to be disappointed. The approach that the filmmakers took was something I deeply appreciated because it’s something different yet familiar at the same time. Because they didn’t have songs and Mushu (the wisecracking dragon), Mulan 2020 was able to stand on its own and allowed it to have darker moments compared to its animated processor. This also gives it time to introduce new characters such as Li Gong (Xiannisng) that would be different from the other characters and quite frankly a lot more interesting (which is something I’ll get to later). She’s a new character not present in the animated film, and she is best described as a shapeshifting witch that amplifies the enemy threat. While I felt like they could’ve done more with the character, she was someone that I enjoyed watching on-screen because, as mentioned before, it makes the enemy feel more intense and it offered something different from the animated film.

If you read my review for the animated Mulan several months ago then you might recall how I addressed the importance of prayer. While Mulan 2020 does touch on that briefly, one significant element that is focused on here is honoring family. The animated version of Mulan does show it, but in Mulan 2020 it’s highlighted in a broader approach. The film repeatedly mentions how important it is to honor the famil,y which in China is significant. There’s a moment in the film where Mulan must redeem her family’s honor and she does it with the intention of sacrificing herself. which is brought up in the animated version, but it’s highlighted here. One might view it as a cliché trait, but I really enjoyed it both as a Catholic and someone who appreciates when a film executes a theme well.

Earlier I brought up the character of Li Gong and how she was probably the most interesting character in the film aside from Mulan. I stand by the statement because if there is one thing that Mulan 2020 lacks it’s the characters.  Aside from Mulan, her family, and Li Gong, there weren’t any other characters that I found interesting or memorable. In fact, as of this review (which I’m writing a couple days after I saw the film) I can’t recall any specific traits from the secondary characters. Usually stuff like that doesn’t bother me in war films because the main focus is the war itself, but it felt like the film was trying to establish the characters in memorable ways and it didn’t quite reach that goal. There’s even high-profile actors in here that don’t live up to their potential. Jet Li portrays the emperor and Donnie Yen is the commander of the Chinese Army, and yet there wasn’t a particular scene that stood out to me. It’s a bit disappointing, but at least I could say that there weren’t bad roles, just pretty forgettable.

The biggest takeaway that I got from the live action Mulan is that it is a prime example of how Disney should go about when it comes to remaking their animated films. It’s a risk doing something different yet allowing it to have some familiarity as well, while establishing gorgeous cinematography and scenery. If you’re willing to spend the extra $30 then it’s something that I recommend, though I won’t blame you if you’re willing to wait until December when it’ll be available to everyone. I was able to watch this with the help of some friends and they all enjoyed the film as well. I hope that the extra $30 surcharge doesn’t become a habit for Disney for future films down the road, but until then I was glad that I got the opportunity to watch Mulan 2020 after a long delay.

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