When I first heard about Disney setting their sights on a live-action remake of “Mulan,” I have to admit that I had my doubts. But after seeing Disney’s latest attempt at recapturing lightning in a bottle, I realized they just might have, finally, succeeded.
We all know Disney’s take on this classic tale, but director Niki Caro puts her own spin on the legend. It’s no secret that this time around there are no singing warriors or a talking dragon, but many of the story beats from the animated version still have their place in this retelling.
In the film, when the Emperor of China decrees that one man from every family must serve in the Imperial Army to defend the country from Northern invaders, Hua Mulan, the eldest daughter of an honored warrior, steps in to take the place of her ailing father. Posing as a man named “Hua Jun,” she must harness her inner strength and embrace her potential as a warrior – and eventually become the hero of China and a legend to all.
“Mulan” features an international cast with many legends in tow: Yifei Liu stars as Mulan; Donnie Yen as Commander Tung; Tzi Ma as Zhou; Jason Scott Lee as Böri Khan; Yoson An on Honhui; Ron Yuan as Sergeant Qiang; with Gong Li as Xianniang and Jet Li as the Emperor.
This take on “The Ballad of Mulan” is a sweeping, vast epic that sprawls across the landscape of China. It’s incredible just how huge this movie feels in comparison to both its preceding live-action remakes and the original animated feature. The cinematography features a lot more stylistic choices than I was used to in previous remakes, as well – something I found both jarring and yet pleasantly surprising.
Yifei Liu shines as the famed heroine, and fully embodies both the grace and power of Mulan while giving her a unique, tomboy-ish edge that’s grounded in Chinese culture. Her bond with her father onscreen is a joy to watch, and deepens the original relationship shown in the animated version.
Another highlight for me was, of course, Donnie Yen and his martial arts prowess. He effortlessly commands any action scene he’s in, and your jaw will definitely be on the floor watching him glide through the air with ease.
The score, composed and conducted by Harry Gregson-Williams, is absolutely breathtaking. Featuring a few nods to the songs you know and love from the original as a bit of fanservice, the inclusions feel respectful and not at all indulgent. Christina Aguilera even returns to perform the closing credits track, “Love Brave True,” as well as a new orchestral version of “Reflection.”
I would be remiss if I didn’t praise the action sequences in “Mulan.” Every single one feels so fluid and seamless, you can tell that the stunt team and choreographers took great care in designing these feats to look both impressive and artistic. The combat is where “Mulan” earns its PG-13 rating, but there’s no gratuitous violence or gore to worry about here – it is a Disney movie, after all.
I thought “Mulan” was an beautiful, original-yet-familiar take on a story that so many know all too well because of Disney’s animated version. Caro managed to keep it spiritually similar to the original while still carving out its own space as a mature, epic retelling – a feat that, considering the track record of past Disney live action remakes, is harder than it sounds. I wish I could have been able to see this film on the big screen, but in the current times we find ourselves in, I’m glad we even got to see it at all.
Starting Sept. 4, “Mulan” will be available on Disney+ as a Premier Access release, priced at $29.99. Once you have Premier Access to the film, you can watch it as many times as you want so long as you have access to Disney+. However, if you’re not interested in spending the extra cash, you can wait until Dec. 4, 2020, when the film will be released to all Disney+ subscribers for regular, free access.
In the Parks
Due to the phased reopening of Walt Disney World Resort, characters are not doing traditional meet-and-greets at the parks. Normally, guests would be able to find and meet Mulan (a redesigned take on the animated version of the character) at Epcot’s China pavilion.
Check out the final trailer for the film below: