As with all these Disney live action remakes it’s important to answer some questions about Mulan right at the top.
Is this movie better than the original animated feature? No. Is this movie a train wreck you should avoid? Also no.
Does Mulan 2020 feel like it didn’t need to exist other than to line the pockets of Disney with another recycled idea? Yes.
If you haven’t gotten around to the animated film in the 22 years since it released, this remake follows mostly the same plot: Mulan pretends to be a man when the Chinese army demands that each family contributes one man to fight in a war. Her father is old and sickly so she does this to save him from death, despite the fact that woman cannot be in the army and if she is found out it would mean dishonour- or death – for her and her family.
Many may already know that things have been changed up a bit, mostly with news of the tiny dragon Mushu (originally voiced by Eddie Murphy) being completely cut from the film. Love or hate this character Mushu represented the more supernatural side of the original including mythology and the power of ancestors.
In the 2020 remake this is made up for in several ways. You can see in the trailers embedded on this page and in some pre-release marketing that there’s a character referred to as a witch and others doing seemingly supernatural feats. This, combined with other changes, are so inconsequential that you’ll end up only really caring – or noticing – if you’re an absolute diehard OG Disney / Mulan fan.
Aside from fun supernatural elements the loss of Mushu also represents a loss of humour and overall lightheartedness. This remake is hilariously trying to be more gritty. There’s still that Disney sheen on things, like when a person dies to a viscous sword slash there’s no blood and they just fall over like they’re very winded, but overall it just feels like it needs to lighten up a bit.
The story is so-so and, unfortunately, this extends to the cast. Main actress Yifei Liu is similarly stiff in her portrayal of Mulan and ends up being the most boring character in her own movie.
Even a familiar name that we had high expectations for – Donnie Yen – is kind of just there. His character Commander Tung is just there to spout exposition and stand in place looking stern or doing martial arts practice.
The standout of the bunch is Tzi Ma, who plays Mulan’s father Hua Zhou. He completely sells us the conflicted, crippled veteran who can no longer fight but can dish out wisdom with the best of them. It’s a damn shame he and his character aren’t in the movie more.
The rest of the cast does a fine job but they’re all saddled with simplistic dialogue and nothing too interesting to do.
One of the more contentious parts of this movie is how it looks, because it’s difficult to describe.
Mulan 2020 by no means looks cheap, and it’s obvious to see that millions of dollars went into it. Despite this looks come off looking chintzy and unrealistic.
The best way to look at it is to think of a high quality theme park, like Disneyland. Endless buckets of money have gone into every inch, but you’re very aware that everything you’re looking at is fabricated. This may be fine in a theme park, but for a movie it means that you can never really feel at home or part of the world that the movie exists in because it’s so clearly faked.
Even when things are supposed to look lived in or dirty – such as literal dirt Mulan cakes herself in to look more like a man – is just perfectly clean and sanitised makeup that no one would believe to be real.
And sanitised may be the best world to describe this movie. It seems that there’s some genuine heart and care that went into this movie, and there’s even a track or two of the OST that we found ourselves enjoying. But as a package it’s all a bit limp and uninteresting. As always the biggest sin any piece of media can commit is being boring, and Mulan does certainly bore at points.
Those who love original Disney animation songs should know that there’s no singing here. Love or hate the musical sections in those movies, they did help to break up the runtime and make it more digestible. Including credits the 1998 movie is a brisk 88 minutes, with this feels even shorter and the experience of watching it is more akin to one or two episodes of a series.
2020 Mulan on the other hand is two hours and, without the music to shake things up, it really feels like a drag at points.
With Mulan and Tenet headlining the re-opening of cinemas, we can’t at all recommend braving the outside world to see it. If you live in a country where it’s available as a $30 addition to Disney+, well we can’t even say it’s worth the purchase either.
The best thing to do really is wait for this movie to be available as part of regular Disney+ for no additional fee, which will happen on 4th December, and that’s the most damning thing we can say about it.