Mulan — Movie Review

What happens when a studio takes an inspiring and classic story that people around the globe love and deprives it of everything that makes it memorable and interesting? The new live action Mulan remake from Disney is what happens. About halfway through the 2010s, Disney started to realize they could just make the same movies twice in different mediums and people would still pay good money to see the result. Ever since then, they have been making billions of dollars with live-action remakes like The Lion King, Aladdin and The Jungle Book — only one of which actually justified its existence. Ever since Disney started off strong with Favreau’s The Jungle Book, the quality of these remakes has been getting even worse, and Mulan is the most sloppy entry yet. It is devoid of all emotion and feels like the tasteless leftovers of the flavorful meal viewers were served with the 1998 animated film. The writers and director try to accomplish something completely different with the same story, and while normally I would be commending this, it feels like they make the safest and most trite script decisions in every given opportunity. Mulan is yet another piece of solid evidence that the only thing these remakes are good for is making Disney money, not for delivering a worthy and meaningful film experience.

The story of this remake is generally the same except it has a far more serious tone. Mulan is told by her traditional Chinese family that she must be married off to a suitable husband in order to honor her ancestors, but ever since she was a little girl, her personality has always been one of courage and vigor. One major addition to this version of Mulan is that this courage is due to her intense chi, which is proven to make her a powerful warrior and fighter. Once her nation comes under attack, her family is asked to send a man to fight for their homeland, so her father volunteers even though he is clearly too old and weak to stand his ground. Mulan can either let her father go fight and die on the battlefield or she can go herself and prove her worth as more than just a wife. She obviously chooses the latter, starting a slow, dry version of the adventure we know and love.

The change I mentioned above — the addition of Mulan’s chi and how her inner powers make her a natural fighter — sounds like a good idea on paper, but it is one of the many miscalculations the writers make when approaching this film. Much of this film follows that general rule: ideas that seem interesting at first but end up draining the emotion out of an otherwise interesting story. Because of this addition regarding her chi, Mulan never has to overcome any challenges in this movie. She approaches the training camp already a perfect fighter, so we never get any scenes of Mulan facing the tough roadblocks that block her path like we do in the original. She is born with special abilities and throughout this movie she uses them to show how skilled she is from the start. Even the fight scenes are easily won, with little to no struggle shown from the main actress. Because there is no struggle and no road to victory, the emotional investment in this movie is nonexistent, so for the entire runtime it just seems like a predictable slog in which I was waiting for the credits to roll.

Another major alteration that the creators conceptualize is to harden the tone of the story into a serious drama in which only one or two jokes are made throughout the entire film. The intent was clearly to make a more realistic and emotionally grounded version of the story everyone knows, but since neither of those traits pan out for this narrative, the film just comes across as boring. Mushu, the talking dragon, is nowhere to be found — neither are the ancestors, and neither is the cricket. Basically, name the aspects of the original Mulan that you found memorable and fun, and they have been taken out of this remake. 

One reason I personally love the original Mulan animation is because of how different it is from the other Disney “princess” movies. Every other story has the protagonist ending up with a guy and either falling in love or maintaining a throne — not Mulan. She was a fighter who went through a different and more unique struggle and who comes out the other side more empowered and independent than every other female character of the time. On the flip side of that coin, one reason I despise this remake is because it takes the unique and powerful nature of the original story and reduces it to more Hollywood fluff that has little meaning. Every decision made by the creators of this film is so bland and forgettable that the movie never differentiates itself from other mediocre period pieces. There were scenes in Mulan that reminded me of The Great Wall, one of the dumbest and most culturally tone-deaf movies of the past decade. 

This brings me to my final nail in the proverbial coffin that is this film: the culture. I’ve never seen a movie in my life that has an all Asian cast but still feels so “whitewashed.” If you look up the crew of this movie (everyone behind the camera, whether it be director, writer, composer, set designer, you name it), they are all white people. Normally I wouldn’t point this out as being an issue, but this film feels devoid of the culture it is supposedly representing. Sure, the writers and crew must have done their research when making this film, but the small cultural norms and interesting details of the time that make period pieces like this interesting are completely missing. This film has rich Hollywood written all over it, getting rid of any authenticity or cultural meaning it could have had.

This movie isn’t all terrible: the acting is competent even if many don’t look like they want to be there, the set decorations and scenery are beautiful at times, and the special effects are serviceable at certain scenes. But to me, Mulan represents much of what is wrong with the Disney/Hollywood machine. This remake is worse than its predecessor in every way, proving that Disney is not making these movies because creative minds have amazing ideas, but because there is serious cash to be made from it. Every scene of this film feels like an emotionless blob spit out from a committee that wants to create the same mediocre Disney story arc over and over again. Mulan is not worth your 30 dollars and is definitely not worth your time.

I give Mulan a D+.

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