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‘Mulan’ Deserved the Big Screen Run Disney Wanted it to Have

September 5, 2020

Over the course of the last 5+ months, with movie theaters shuddered, I often asked myself, “why wouldn’t they just release this on VOD?” That question about studios digging their heels in only grew louder in my head as new movies that would play just as well at home as they would in a theater started to arrive.

 

However, after watching ‘Mulan’ at home, I totally get why Disney waited as long as they could … it absolutely deserved a theatrical run.

Yifei Liu as Mulan in Disney’s ‘Mulan.’ (Photo by Jasin Boland. © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Mulan (Yifei Liu) is the eldest daughter of famed warrior Zhou (Tzi Ma) and Li (Rosalind Chao). Despite being gifted physically and possessing powerful chi, Mulan is considered by people in her village to be a disgrace to her family because she doesn’t conform to the cultural norm for women. This is only exasperated following a disastrous meeting with the village matchmaker.

 

While Mulan looks for answers to her life, the Emperor’s Guard arrives with a decree: all families must provide one man to serve in the Imperial Army to protect the empire from northern invaders. Zhou, with only two daughters and a wife, volunteers to serve, despite being a shell of his former self due to previous battles.

 

Under cover of night, Mulan makes off with her father’s sword, armor, and horse, determined to bring honor to her family and protect the empire by masquerading as a man.

Yifei Liu as Mulan in Disney’s ‘Mulan.’ (Photo: Film Frame. © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

If you go to Twitter (seriously, don’t do it), you’ll see plenty of people (who hadn’t yet seen the film) complaining that “Mulan” is nothing more than a Disney money grab, and that it strays too far from the animated film they love.

 

On the former: of course it’s a “money grab.” The goal of movies, particularly those with a $200 million budget, is to make money.

 

On the latter: I can’t speak to it as I’ve never seen the original (it came out while I was in college and I’ve never gone back to revisit it). But I will say that previous Disney “live action” remakes like ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Aladdin’ were panned by many fans for being shot-for-shot remakes. And really, is the exclusion of a magical dragon and musical numbers really that big of a deal? The film still includes “magic” and allows ample opportunity to suspend disbelief – just think of it more as “mystical” rather than “magical.”

Disney’s ‘Mulan.’ (Photo: Film Frame. © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Visually speaking, everything about ‘Mulan’ is on point. It’s vibrant and colorful when it needs to be and toned down at the right times; the cinematography (courtesy of Mandy Walker) makes the big scenes feel even bigger and the small ones feel personal and intimate; the action is on par with the best over-the-top martial arts films; and, most importantly, the CGI is effective and obvious without being comical.

 

In terms of tone, I’ll go out on a limb and say that this version of ‘Mulan’ is darker and more stoic than the animated version. And frankly, I like it. Obviously, you’re fully aware that you’re watching a Disney movie, but it doesn’t really feel like a Disney movie. It’s serious, with only sporadic humor, and like all good family(ish) films, there’s a lesson on morality, but it’s a welcome departure from the norm.

 

The story itself is just fine. It doesn’t recreate the wheel, and doesn’t try, but it’s compelling enough to keep your attention – particularly when combined with the more serious tone and stunning visuals. You can probably say the same thing for the acting.

 

If there’s one downside, and I’ll go so far as to say that’s it’s a pretty big downside, it’s the price tag. While most VOD options run in the $6-7 range, with premium options reaching $20, ‘Mulan’ comes in at $29.99, plus the need for a Disney+ subscription.

Disney’s ‘Mulan.’ (Photo: Film Frame. © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

 

Here’s my recommendation: if a normal trip to the theater for you and whoever you’re watching with (tickets, concessions, parking, etc.) is in that neighborhood, there should be zero sticker shock – I don’t know too many families that get out spending less than $40. If, however, your theater trips are like mine and don’t come anywhere close to that number, you may want to wait until December when it debuts for everyone … or you can find other loners to split the cost with.

 

Given the relatively lackluster history of these remakes, I started ‘Mulan’ with rather low expectations, but ended up pleasantly surprised. It’s easy to see why Disney resisted going the Disney+ route for as long as it did. For me, with the exclusion of ‘The Jungle Book’ and ‘Pete’s Dragon, ‘Mulan’ is the best of these Disney “live action” remakes.

 

★★★★ of ★★★★★

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