The story of the female warrior, Hua Mulan, has been told many times over the past several decades, and Disney’s recent adaptation of Mulan is a great take on the old tale. Disney’s previous 1998 adaptation was a hit as well but took a more kid-friendly approach. Today though, Mulan is much more mature, visually pleasing, and still charming like the animated classic many grew up with.
Most viewers will compare this film to Disney’s animated film, but going in expecting Mulan to be exactly like the animated version means you have already missed the point. There was a lot of outrage over the trailer because it became apparent components of the animated film were gone. However, Mulan is a remake intended to resemble the original legend, so those playful components in the animated version aren’t required or needed. Directed by Niko Caro, the film stars Liu Yifei, Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Gong Li, and Jet Li. Taking place in the Northern Wei era (386-535), Hua Mulan, daughter of a proud warrior, disguises herself as a man and takes her aging fathers spot in the Imperial Army to battle invaders. The film was penned by many writers including Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek, and Elizabeth Martin.
Disney’s live-action remakes are hit or miss and thankfully Mulan is a massive home run that maintains the heart of the animated version. Given the film’s setting, the women in the film are subjected to the usual expectations, and Mulan just doesn’t fit in with those ideas. As a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and female empowerment messages, it is nice to revisit Mulan, and see the message of a woman carving her own path that goes against what’s expected depicted on screen. The script is very progressive, empowering, and just offers the best foundation for a good film. However, the biggest crime Mulan commits is not fleshing out Bori Kahn, the film’s main antagonist. Out to avenge the death of his father, and brilliantly brought to life by Jason Scott Lee, the character’s motivation just doesn’t get enough development.
Lee’s performance will leave you longing for more of a backstory that just seemingly got cut out of the final product. Many characters feel underdeveloped, but Yifei’s portrayal of Mulan captures the powerful underlying message this story intends to tell. Of course, as our main protagonist, the journey of watching her go from someone who has to hide her talents to being accepted for the gifts she possesses is something that would have come off better on the big screen but it’s still a great example of a character starting in one place and ending up in another as the film progresses. Outside of Lee and Yifei, Mulan’s cast delivers in every way possible. Many characters won’t become fan favorites like Mushu from the animated version, but the performances are so good from everyone involved that it makes the reimagining a must-see.
What Niki Caro was able to accomplish here just makes the outcome of last year’s Lion King remake that much more aggravating. She has directed a film that goes its own way and shows respect to the animated classic. Visually, Mulan is one of the years best and cinematographer Mandy Walker just helped put on an all-out treat. The stunt work and the action sequences are powerful and breathtaking to witness. However, given that the film is PG-13 it is odd that it features no blood during these sequences. Also, the film’s score by Harry Gregson accompanies all the beauty presented on screen in the best way.
Mulan is the latest live-action adaptation from Disney that checks off almost every box. An absolutely beautiful film to look at, and reinforces a progressive message brought to life by a terrific lead performance. Mulan remains loyal and true to its source material while effectively changing enough to bravely stand alone.