Review: Mulan (2020)

Mulan is a live-action remake Disney’s classic animated film of the same name. Director Niki Caro took on the task of reimagining one of Disney’s most beloved stories for a generation of kids that have grown up watching superheroes on the big screen.

You know the story of Mulan – when the Emperor of China decrees that one man per family must serve in the Imperial Army, Mulan (Liu Yifei) pretends to be a man and takes the place of her ailing father. The Imperial Army is headed into battle against Xian Lang (Gong Li) a shapeshiftng witch and Bori Khan (Jason Scott), an evil warrior seeking revenge.

Despite some of the missing characters from the 1998 original (including the music), Mulan is still as charming and entertaining as the original. The music and comedic elements found in Disney films is replaced with splashes of superhero film DNA that make Mulan feel more like a superhero origin story and less like the underdog tale fans grew up loving.

Not only do the action and story elements feel like a superhero film, the film is shot like one. The story has the same beats as any origin story in the MCU. Mulan hides her ability to harness chi (a superpower), has a secret identity, and has to stop an evil force that no mere mortal can defeat. How is this not a superhero story?

It only takes 10 minutes of watching Mulan to notice Caro directed this to be shown on the biggest and brightest screens. The visuals in Mulan are arranged like beautiful bouquet of flowers – the bright colors are perfectly placed next to each other, all of the action sequences all blend well together, and it’s impossible not to admire what you’re seeing. Even with the best 4K TV, it’s a crime Caro’s vision for Mulan won’t be appreciated on the big screen.

Caro’s best work is the really nice camera tricks she uses for scenes that would require CGI like Xian Lang’s transformation scenes and the camera work during the fight scenes. All the actors look graceful in battle like they’re performing in a ballet. Those fight scenes give the film a supernatural/fantasy feel that fits with Mulan’s journey.

The star of the film is Liu as Mulan. The film isn’t a shot-for-shot remake like last year’s Lion King and the changes require Liu to do more as Mulan and carry many of the emotional moments – Liu does not disappoint. She’s the character that gives this superhero action film the heart it needs to feel like a Disney film and family film that speaks to all ages.

Mulan is a delightful remake of the original. Although it lacks some of the engaging elements that made the original so lovable, it makes up for it with beautiful battle scenes and great villainous performance by Gong Li. Hopefully more Disney remakes take big swings like Mulan and give fans something new to love.

Grade: B