When the Emperor of China issues a decree that one man per family must serve in the Imperial Army to defend the country from Northern invaders, Mulan (Liu Yifei), the eldest daughter of an honored warrior, steps in to take the place of her ailing father. Masquerading as a man, Hua Jun, she is tested every step of the way and must harness her inner-strength and embrace her true potential. It is an epic journey that will transform her into an honored warrior and earn her the respect of a grateful nation and a proud father.
Many people in recent years have called out the Disney live-action remakes as being nothing more than cash grabs as the vast majority of them don’t do anything different to differentiate from the original animated film. Personally, I really enjoy the Disney live-action remakes with my favorite of the recent ones being Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book, and I also greatly enjoyed Aladdin, which is quite a controversial opinion it seems.
So far, the only one that I outright hated was none other than Favreau’s 2019 adaptation of The Lion King which was essentially a shot-for-shot remake that felt extremely soulless which was honestly crushing considering how much heart and power the original animated classic carries with it.
Ever since it was announced that they were developing a remake of the beloved Mulan, I was quite excited to see what they were going to do with it. When I learned that there was going to be no musical numbers and also no inclusion of fan-favorite character Mushu, I braced myself for a Mulan that was going to be aimed for a more teenage audience. I did not expect this new adaptation to be immensely grim and bleak and aimed towards grown-ups only because Disney would never do something like that, and I’m glad they didn’t with Niki Caro’s Mulan. This is very much so a much darker retelling of the animated classic, but it still manages to encapsulate the magic and wonder that so many young kids fell in love with all these years ago.
Caro’s film is so full of warmth and power and never feels like it’s a shot-for-shot remake like The Lion King was. Of course, there are going to be similarities between the two, but there is plenty of new elements that are introduced here along the way that both long-time fans of the original Mulan, as well as newcomers, will enjoy.
In my humble opinion, a great Disney live-action remake should capture the magic that made the original film before it so beloved. It should inspire children and mean something to them. A great example of this is Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel. While that movie was not a remake of an animated movie, it was a film that boasted so much heart and was a film in which young children could look up to its lead protagonist and take away from her virtues. Mulan will inspire kids in the same way and I think that’s a beautiful thing.
But in order to do this, you also need to cast the right actress to play the beloved Mulan and I can say confidently that Liu Yifei did an excellent job at bringing this character to life on the big screen. Say what you want to about Yifei as a person and her beliefs, but there is no denying that she embraces the courageousness, power, and soul of Mulan that has made her an iconic character in pop culture for years.
Something else that was truly wonderful to see in Mulan was the action sequences. They all feel extremely tense and remarkably violent for the most part. Don’t worry, there isn’t any blood involved here so as long as your kid isn’t under twelve or so, they should have no problems with the material shown in this film. I was genuinely greatly impressed with how well filmed and how well-choreographed all the action scenes were done here. If there is something to nitpick about them, however, every once in a while the camera will flip on its side out of nowhere and it creates for an admittedly odd and jarring transition that didn’t work too well. Gratefully, this doesn’t happen too often.
If I were to pinpoint the biggest flaw with Niki Caro’s Mulan, it would have to revolve around character development. The only character that we get a well-rounded view of is the titular character. I’m definitely glad that Mulan was an extremely easy protagonist to root for from the beginning to the end, but I wish that the other characters got some more depth to them. In reality, Mulan is the only character in the film that we can truly understand. A lot of the others feel relatively sidelined and sometimes even unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
But none of this takes away from the fact that this live-action retelling of Mulan is still full of heart, wonder, and power and will inspire young children all around the world. It has a few faults along the way, but rest assured – this is both a respectful and incredibly entertaining remake that millions are going to love. Myself included.
Niki Caro’s Mulan wonderfully captures the magic and power of the original animated classic and brings a sense of awe and delight to the table thanks to its great story, fun action, and interesting protagonist.
Overall Grade: A-
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence
Directed by: Niki Caro
Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Release Date: September 4, 2020
Running Time: 115 minutes