The Disney live-action remakes of recent years have varied quite a bit in how much they deviate from their respective originals. Some, like The Lion King, have been almost the same scene for scene. Others, such as Maleficent, have acted as a total reimagining. 2020’s Mulan lands somewhere in the middle but falls much closer to a reimagining than a remake.
Indeed, there is very little here that resembles the story told in the 1998 film from Walt Disney Feature Animation. That film took a Chinese legend and breathed life into the material with original songs, comic sidekicks, and a love interest, as Disney so often does. Obviously, all of those worked in its favor and helped deliver a film that was loved by audiences at the time and continues to be loved to this day. However, those three qualities that have helped the original Mulan stand the test of time are all absent here, leaving us with a film that is more serious, more action-packed but, consequently, colder in tone and less emotional of a journey.
First the good: the film looks spectacular. Truly, every shot is beautiful and looks like a piece of art in its own right. The colors pop, the locations are breathtaking, and the ambiance is spot on from beginning to end. For me, the $30 price tag is worth it simply to see the cinematography. The sound design is another thing that works in the film’s favor. It is immersive and feels authentic, as does the musical score, which offers new music as well as motifs of familiar songs, the most noticeable being “Reflection.”
However, despite these motifs of “Reflection”, I couldn’t help but desire to hear the songs being sung. They brought emotion and gravitas to the original that I just never really felt here. I understand the vision for this film didn’t include those songs. Indeed, it might even be unfair to the vision to compare it to the original. I can’t help but think, though, that if that emotion had been able to find its way here, albeit in a new form, the movie would be better for it.
As for the casting, the standouts are no doubt Liu Yifei in the title role and Tzi Ma as her father. They both shine separately and their scenes together are beautiful. Unfortunately, many of the side characters don’t have much to do, which is a shame because they all do an excellent job with the little screen time that they have. There are a couple of new characters in the film, including one major one that I don’t want to discuss in detail for fear of spoiling. I will say, though, that this new character works well and offers a departure from the original that felt to me to be an inspired choice.
Now, for the big question: is this film worth $30? Despite my few qualms with it, I would say yes. As I said before, it is visually stunning which, for me, makes it worth it. It is indeed a shame that this couldn’t be seen on the big screen. I must admit that the original Mulan has never been a favorite of mine, but after seeing this, I have the desire to return to the original after not watching it for a couple years. 2020’s Mulan does stand on its own, however, and I believe it will be remembered as one of the better live-action remakes.