Mulan (Movie Review)
A soulless remake that takes itself way too seriously.
About the Film
A live-action remake of the 1998 animated classic, Mulan (2020) tells the story of a young Chinese woman who disguises herself as a man and goes to battle in her aging father’s place, ultimately bringing honor to her family and her nation.
Whereas the animated version was heavy on slapstick humor and comic relief (including Eddie Murphy’s memorable performance as the voice of the demoted ancestral guardian Mushu), the live-action adaptation pares down the fluff (read: fun and joy) and takes a less lighthearted approach.
With each of the recent live-action remakes, Disney runs a risk by messing with the arguably untouchable classics. As a mega-fan of the animated version, I found this adaptation to be a much-too-serious action flick stripped of everything that made the animated version great. The fun sidekicks are replaced with a silent phoenix, a visually appealing but ultimately uninteresting metaphor for Mulan’s awakening as an empowered woman. The songs show up only in the score as subtle nods to the animated classic. And Mulan’s lovable klutziness? Replaced by a fierce warrior who would make the most ferocious Hun quiver in his boots.
What the film has in abundance is battle sequences—and Mulan is right in the thick of them. Rather than a clumsy village girl who achieves success through bravery and clever determination, the Mulan of the live-action remake is essentially a chi-powered Marvel superhero. And she’s unstoppable.
On the Surface—(Profanity, Sexual content, violence, etc.).
Sexuality: There are a few scenes of skinny-dipping, though nothing immodest is shown. There are also a few light-hearted scenes of soldiers rolling over in their sleep and unconsciously draping their arms over Mulan (and each other).
Violence: The entire film is essentially an action sequence, though there is very little blood or gore. Some of the scenes might be disturbing for young or sensitive viewers.
Beneath the Surface— (Themes, philosophical messages, worldview, etc.)
Spirituality and the Power of Chi
A common theme throughout the film is the power of chi, a spiritual energy force that flows through exceptional Chinese warriors (in much the same way Jedis draw their strength from the Force). Though the film is somewhat ambiguous regarding the nuances of chi, Mulan is clearly gifted with its power, something that is unacceptable for women in her culture.
Obviously, the supernatural elements portrayed in the film—and there are quite a few—are rooted in the story’s historical and mythological context and are incompatible with biblical teachings. Bear that in mind when determining whether to watch the film (or whether to allow your children to watch it).
Mulan has always been a symbol of female empowerment. She breaks down the narrow boundaries of what is expected of women in her culture (becoming a wife, mother, homemaker) and becomes a kick-butt warrior instead. But in contrast to the 1998 animated version, the live-action Mulan’s story is not so much about transformation as it is about embracing the warrior that is already inside her. Her skills stem from a supernatural gift rather than from anything she has worked to achieve (unlike the clumsy but clever animated Mulan who attains military victory through grit and quick thinking). While watching Mulan best warriors twice her size in hand-to-hand combat might be enjoyable, it’s not particularly relatable (or empowering) for the average chi-less female viewer.
The Importance of Family Honor
Another major theme in the film is the importance of honoring one’s family. Mulan must strike a delicate balance between respecting her parents and staying true to who she is. In the end, she finds a way to do both.
Mulan (2020) is a serious adaptation geared toward a more mature audience. But in shedding the goofy sidekicks, songs, and (most of) Mulan’s blunders, the movie loses the charm that made the animated version so much fun to watch. What remains is a Mushu-less action flick that lacks depth, character development, and humor. While fans of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon-esque films may appreciate the martial arts battle sequences, fans of the original will likely be disappointed.
Verdict: Save the $30 and wait until it is free to watch on Disney+. Better yet, stick to the animated version.