The original Mulan is a classic, but there’s room for improvement. The timeless story of Mulan has plenty of room to grow, but it needs a powerful script and a cast willing to pull it off. Disney’s live action remake only musters one of those.
I wouldn’t have a problem with a dour re-telling of Mulan if that was what Disney was going for. I similarly wouldn’t take umbrage with a new version of Mulan that added wise-cracking dragon sidekicks and musical numbers. But the finished product tries to combine elements of both, adding moments of levity and yes…magic, into the mix. It works until it doesn’t.
It’s befuddling from a granular, script level. This newer version has more explicit violence of soldiers falling in battle on-screen (even if blood isn’t gushing from them) with Mulan doing a lot of the killing in a few impressive battle sequences. But it also tries to execute comedic turns at times and completely falls flat on its face. The other issue: the clashing magical elements.
“Chi” is added into the mix as a thematic storytelling element, but instead of using the overall concept, it’s also a way for Mulan and one of the primary antagonists to cast magical spells. This ranges from powers like turning into swarms of animals, impersonating other humans, or in the case of Mulan: making the ground shake like Goku from Dragon Ball Z. At times — with one particular standout moment of cheese near the end complete with a superhero score to boot — it plays out much like a Marvel film. Which can be fun!
There’s an interesting angle there with “The Witch” and Mulan (which takes up a sizable chunk of the film), but that feels like a completely separate story. Which leads me to Mulan’s other chief sin: editing. Somehow Mulan is two hours long, but also constantly feels rushed. We know there are scenes that were cut from the film ahead of time, but even during the narrative certain elements are hurried. As a result some of the relationships between characters don’t feel as genuine as they could have.
That said, there are a ton of great character moments and the actors themselves — with the material they were given — put in an above average effort. Some of the backdrops are also stunning: it’s just a shame that some of those angles were ruined with some strange editing that try to pay homage to classic Chinese action, but aren’t nearly as elegant. I was often of two minds while watching Mulan, enjoying myself, then bored in the next moment.
Mulan is a better effort than a few of the other live action remakes in recent years, but it still suffers from a lot of the same problems. Disney needs to replicate whatever secret sauce it brewed for the Jungle Book remake.