In a perfect world, Mulan would be playing on the big screen across the globe but Disney decided to launch the film on Disney+ rather than delay.
I get it. This is a film that deserves to be seen on the big screen. Hollywood doesn’t put out many films with an Asian-led cast. When they do, they’re sure to be hits. Without theaters running at full capacity, Disney had a decision to make from a financial standpoint. I understand why Disney made their decision especially during a pandemic. The studio hopes that the film will at least make back production budget at the very least. Will Disney+ premier access be enough to beat out the animated film’s box office? This remains to be seen? But for now, the app is the safest way to watch the film.
When the emperor (Jet Li) demands that one man from each family serve in the Imperial Army, Hua Mulan (Yifei Liu) departs for training. Her father isn’t in the best of health so she takes it upon herself. Upon arriving, Mulan pretends to be a man, Hua Jun. There’s some running material here that I won’t spoil but as far as the film goes, some of the animated scenes get recreated for the big screen adventure.
It’s been some time since watching the animated film but what I can tell you is that Mulan translates quite well to live-action. Some of the animated scenes get modified such as the avalanche, for instance. The film has room to play by taking out songs and adding on another half hour to the film. There are no songs until the credits. You might hear an homage in the score from time to time but this is not a full-on remake.
I love what Niki Caro does here as a filmmaker. She presents her vision of Mulan in a way that steps back from what we’re seeing in terms of Disney Renaissance films getting adapted in live-action. Most have been full-on musical remakes. Mulan is a rare exception and the decision to do so really works in the service of the film. Honestly, it’s a refreshing change from what we’ve seen in recent adaptations. I hope Disney takes note with regards to other reimaginings in the works because the approach to Mulan is how they ought to be doing it. Sure, some fans of the 1998 film will be upset. This isn’t to say that all music is out. Christina Aguilera sings both “Reflection” and “Loyal Brave True” during the credits. Yifei Liu also sings “Reflection.”
Mushu is also excised from the film. The cricket is also gone. Disney heard the complaints loud and clear over 20 years ago. This isn’t to say that there isn’t any humor because there is. It’s just much lighter in tone compared to the 1998 film –Eddie Murphy’s presence can make a big difference. There’s also a blend of action and romance.
Speaking of romance, it’s certainly here alright. However, Li Shang isn’t. His character has been divided into two characters, Commander Tung (Donnie Yen) and Chen Honghui (Yoson An). Mulan’s script changes come as a result of the #MeToo movement. It wouldn’t be right to have a commanding officer serving as a love interest. Chen, another recruit, takes over in this capacity.
Perhaps one of the reasons why this Disney reimagining works better than most is that Niki Caro isn’t relying on green screen technology. Obviously, the film still utilizes CGI technology for visual effects. But in terms of practicality, this film was shot on location as much as possible in both China and New Zealand. Similarly, Mandy Walker’s cinematography work is why we can’t tell which scenes are in China and which are in New Zealand.
Mulan blends the Chinese legend with the Disney magic in a way that’s respectful of both–but it’s still very much a big screen film.
DIRECTOR: Niki Caro
SCREENWRITERS: Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Lauren Hynek & Elizabeth Martin
CAST: Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Tzi Ma, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Ron Yuan, with Gong Li and Jet Li