Review: Mulan

Mulan (2020)

Director: Niki Caro

Writers: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek, and Elizabeth Martin

Starring: Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Tzi Ma, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Ron Yuan, Gong Li, and Jet Li

Plot: Hua Mulan disguises herself as a man to serve in the Chinese army in the place of her elderly father.

Review: I’ve used a lot of words to describe the various live action Disney remakes. I’ve used magical (Cinderella), thrilling (The Jungle Book), silly (101 Dalmatians), safe (The Lion King), unnecessary (Beauty and the Beast/Aladdin), weird (Dumbo), uncanny (Lady and the Tramp), blasphemous (Maleficent), and just downright awful (Alice in Wonderland). However, there’s one word I never expected to use with these movies: dull. But, man, the 2020 version of Mulan sure is dull.

Now, before anyone defends this movie, I get it. The original, animated Mulan was considered pretty offensive in China. They didn’t like the fact that one of their greatest legends was Disneyfied, Eddie Murphy and all. But, that original movie had a lot of charm. At least among American audiences, it’s come to be known as one of the classics of the Renaissance era. The songs. The characters. The story. Almost everything about the movie is beloved. Strip all of that away and you’re not left with much. There is almost no charm to 2020’s version. They’re telling you the same story but it almost feels like a sparknotes version. I never once smiled or laughed or even cheered on our leads. I was just bored.

Nowhere is that clearer than with our main character. They’ve kind of butchered Mulan’s arc here. In this version, she never seems like a normal girl. She’s this extreme fighting machine with so much god-given talented that people in her village refer to her as a witch. By doing this, you take away any sense of sacrifice, danger or struggle. She’s no longer someone who’s doing the right thing because she cares so deeply about her family. She’s now a killing machine that felt it was her duty to save China. By doing that, Disney really did a disservice to one of their more relatable characters. The remakes have neutered some pretty interesting characters before but I’ve never seen something this egregious. I straight up don’t like this version of Mulan. She doesn’t interest me. It’s such a baffling descision.

Honestly, stripping the story of all emotional connections would’ve been bad enough, but 2020’s Mulan didn’t stop there. Like I said, for some reason, they decided to make it a story about, essentially, Chinese superheroes. Thus, Shan Yu was, apparently, not scary enough. No, they needed a villain on par with this new version of Mulan. So, who could fight someone with the skills of a witch? Why, an actual witch of course! Yep. There’s actual magic characters in this movie. She turns into a phoenix. She teleports. She flies. She becomes a swarm of bats. She does a lot of things. And it’s… really not good. Again, it completely changes the story. This isn’t about one village girl standing up to a terrifying force anymore. This is two super powered beings meeting up on the battlefield. Did the script to Mulan and Shang-Chi somehow get mixed up at Disney HQ? What is going on here? How is the animated movie with Eddie Murphy voicing a dragon somehow the more grounded of the two movies? When I heard they were nixing Mushu and the songs, I really liked the idea. As much as I enjoy the original, I was looking forward to a different take on Mulan. Something realistic and gritty sounded so cool. Even if they could just barely hit PG-13 under Disney’s standards. But, how did that concept turn into this? It’s almost the exact opposite! If you’re going to “make it closer to the legend” then do that! Come on! It’s not hard! I demand a redo!

On a technical level, I don’t really have a lot to say about Mulan. Everything kind of felt perfectly average in the way that most of these remakes are. The costumes were stellar. The set design was cool. The performances were kind of a mixed bag. Some were great. Others were pretty bad. The directing was a tad overdone (especially in the action sequences which were pretty bad), but also had some really cool visuals. I don’t know. Nothing was bad, but I wouldn’t say it was fantastic either. It’s all just kind of perfectly acceptable.

Overall, I’d say that Mulan is super boring. They took all of the fun and excitement out of the animated original. I never once smiled. I didn’t really have any fun. I was baffled by a lot of the changes. I wouldn’t call it a bad movie necessarily. If it wasn’t connected in any way to the animated flick, I may have enjoyed it more. It’s just not a pleasant experience when compared to the original. It’s probably my least favorite remake since Maleficent. I can’t see myself ever rewatching it. If you’re at all interested, definitely wait until it’s free on Disney+ in a couple months. Then, you don’t feel the pressure to finish it. Because it can be hard to get through. I know I struggled with it.

Damn it. This movie could’ve been so cool…

TL;DR: The changes made for 2020’s Mulan make the story and the characters worse, which results in a much less fun movie.

Score: 5/10 (Meh)

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