Disney’s latest live-action film is a lot of things. Visually spectacular, high-budget and . But to fans of the original, Mulan will be striking for what it’s not. There’s little humor, no whimsy and zero talking dragons.
This is an issue for many who watched the flick on Disney Plus, with just 52% of positive audience ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and a paltry 2.9 audience score on Metacritic.in lieu of the planned cinema release. The film has been more harshly received by viewers than critics,
Read through the comments and a common theme emerges. “When compared to the original, this movie has no heart whatsoever,” reads a half-star user review. “Definitely not what I was expecting,” said one Rotten Tomatoes user, “all those changes to the story really ruined the movie.” According to halfbloodprince, “Critics really missed the mark on this one. No mushu, no songs, just a watered down and boring Mulan sprinkled with familiar superhero tropes.”
Thankfully, having not seen the 1998 original, I was immune to these comparisons. Mulan 2020 takes risks with the source material’s formula, but I didn’t have the original as a benchmark. So what’s Mulan like if you haven’t seen the late-’90s classic? It’s fine. Completely and utterly fine.
And that’s a problem for Disney.
The House of Mouse has seemingly retold the story of Mulan in a way different enough to turn off fans of the original, but not in a way that makes it stimulating for people like me who’re new to the franchise. It’s what no Disney flick should be: bland.
Reimagined, not remade
Mulan is the 11th live-action do over Disney has released since 2010, when the success of Alice in Wonderland jolted the company into a frenzy of remakes. These films have largely been a financial bonanza. Last year’s Lion King was Disney’s biggest non-Marvel flick in years, scoring $1.6 billion at the box office.
But Mulan isn’t like The Lion King. That was a near frame-for-frame remake, taking the cartoon of yonder and turning it into amix of live action and cutting-edge CGI. Mulan is really more of a reimagining.
It’s still about Mulan overcoming the barriers placed on women to become a legendary warrior, but there’s a completely new villain in Xianniang, a shapeshifting witch who helps out the main bad guy, and the subtraction of Mushu and musical numbers makes this a much more earnest take on female empowerment.
And, visually, it’s a beautiful one. I’m a proponent of the Straight to Streaming trend we’ve seen since the pandemic began, but Mulan would have been markedly more impressive in a cinema. Its stunning realization of 13th century China — mountainous vistas, colorful costumes, vibrant scenery — is certainly its greatest achievement.
Mulan herself benefits from the glow up too. The story revolves around her Qi, which is spoken about in almost the, and how, because she’s a woman, she has to repress her abilities. Eventually she lets loose, and becomes a gnarly warrior on the battlefield. The $200 million budget comes in handy here, as special effects and the industry’s best choreographers give her on-screen moves that really do make her look badass.
So on a technical level, the film is a success. But artistically? That’s a different story. Unfortunately, if you don’t already have an attachment to Mulan, spellbinding imagery is about the end of the film’s magic.
Apart from not being a straight remake, Mulan is unlike The Lion King in another key way: The source material is far less pervasive. Films like The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin are cultural touchstones, such that you absorb them via osmosis by the time you’re an adult even if you’ve never actually watched them.in the form of their 21st century remakes is still a novelty.
Everyone knows the Genie — and look, now he’s Will Smith!
Mulan, as lauded as it is, isn’t like that. As a franchise and brand, compared to something like The Lion King, it’s a non-entity. For the remake to truly succeed, it needed to be captivating enough to reel in the uninitiated.
Mulan’s big weakness is that it doesn’t make you care about Mulan. Mushu and the original’s songs were dropped to give the film more of a dramatic sweep, but that goal is let down by uninspired characters and a middling story.
The actors speak like they’re doing voice overs for a cartoon, which makes most of the characters come off as caricatures. Mulan herself has a distinct arc, but character depth and development is limited, if existent at all, for everyone else. It’s ironic that the result of this live-action remake is to make characters feel more two dimensional than the actual cartoon.
I wondered, as Mulan was wrapping up, how big of a problem this is. Disney movies are for kids, nominally at least, so maybe expecting nuanced characters and a thoughtful plot is folly. But the hallmark of a classic Disney movie is that it’s “for” kids but clever, charming and thoughtful enough for adults to enjoy too.
It’s this quality that Mulan lacks, and it means the film is unlikely to inspire new fandom. That’s seemingly a problem common to Disney live-action remakes, which are high in technical genius but low in soul. Alice in Wonderland grossed $1.025 billion in 2010 but its sequel, released six years later, drew in a comparatively meagre $229 million. Maleficent tallied up $758 million in 2014, but the 2019 sequel underperformed with $491 million.
In other words, there was nothing to entice people back once they had enjoyed the novelty of seeing their childhood favorites remade with modern cinematic wizardry. If that is the trend, Mulan is poised to continue it.
If you haven’t seen the original, you won’t hate the 2020 version as much as the internet does. But that doesn’t mean it’s worth going out of your way to watch, either.
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