The latest in Disney’s slate of live-action remakes, Mulan, is now available to watch, free, on Disney+, after months of waiting for a release. Niki Caro’s feature was supposed to be premiere in March of this year, but as we all know, circumstances beyond our control got in the way, which is a shame, because this remake seemed destined for the big screen, especially with all the effort and money put into it. Yet, there is not much we can do but accept the gift that has been bestowed upon us by the “House of Mouse”
It was clear during production that Disney had planned to take a different direction with Mulan by leaning more into Chinese culture and removing certain aspects of the original. We don’t get to see a wisecracking dragon with the voice of a fast-talking comedian (with all due respect to Eddie Murphy), nor do we hear songs that we find ourselves singing wherever the opportunity arises. Instead, this Mulan seems to be made like a Zhang Yimou film. In it, we get sweeping spectacles and stylistic choreography mixed with martial-arts action.
I can respect everything that 2020 Mulan has to offer, though being that it is still a Disney remake, it is quite hard not to draw comparisons to a film that was quite beloved by many. As with all remakes, some changes improve the movie, while others could fail. Mulan falls into the category of a remake that works well enough on its own, yet some aspects worked better in its original counterpart.
The story is more of the same; a young Chinese woman named Mulan (Yifei Liu), burdened by the traditions of her family – including attending a matchmaking session gone wrong by an insect – finds herself taking the place of her father (Tzi Ma), who is too old and weak to join the ranks of the war he has been called to duty for against an evil empire. Though, he believes it is his duty to serve, and his daughter should “know her place”, she secretly sets out in the guise of a man in order to bring honor to her family while trying to conceal her identity, lest she face punishment.
In keeping with Chinese culture and folklore however, a lot is different in this version. Instead of the Huns, the Imperial army is faced with taking down Rouran warriors and a shape-shifting witch (Gong Li), while Mulan has a hidden ability that proves to be more powerful than imagined.
On its own merits, Mulan stands apart from the rest of the live-action remakes Disney has been churning out. Though, with the way the original film handles certain elements, it manages to fall short. What were once brutal, harsh, in-depth moments ultimately ended up being toned down for some reason, making these nitpicks hard to overlook. To its credit, Mulan has managed to achieve something that most of the remakes failed to do; make something new. Maybe, not in the greatest way, but still unique and fresh.