Over the past few years it’s become apparent that Disney is all-in on making live-action remakes of their classic animated movies. When looking at the massive box-office successes of the new live-action “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King” and “Aladdin,” it’s easy to see why.
With that said, the jury is still out on whether or not these films are worth the time. Yes, they make money — and, to a giant corporation like Disney, maybe that’s all that matters — but the quality of these remakes has been hit-and-miss, to put it mildly. I quite liked the different directions the live-action adaptations of “The Jungle Book” and “Beauty and the Beast” took, but I’ve found most of the other remakes to be pretty lackluster. “Aladdin” tried to drastically change up its story and tone but in doing so failed to recapture a lot of the original’s magic. “The Lion King” did the exact opposite and brought nothing new to the table aside from updated visuals. Don’t even get me started on the absolute borefest that was last year’s “Dumbo.”
There was a lot of potential with a new take on “Mulan.” The story of “Mulan” is easily one of the most epic to come from Disney’s animated catalogue, and I believed the scope and premise of the story could translate wonderfully into live-action.
This new take on “Mulan” was originally supposed to release in theaters this spring, but it was pulled from that date as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. It finally became available to Disney+ subscribers this past weekend if, in addition to the monthly subscription fee, they were willing to pay $30 to purchase it.
That $30 price tag is hefty, and many viewers will likely just wait till December when the film is available on the service without the additional purchase. But is paying the steep price now worth the experience of watching the film? Well, yes and no.
This new “Mulan” is great. I think it’s one of the best remakes to come out of this latest slew of remakes from Disney, and as a whole the film exceeded my expectations. It’s a notably different movie than the original 1998 animated classic, but it stays true enough to the original plot for it to carry the same weight. It’s a fairly similar story to the original “Mulan” with a bit of a tonal shift and a few new twists thrown in.
This change of gears moves “Mulan” largely in a more serious direction that one would expect from a fantasy epic. It’s certainly still appropriate for children, but it did cut out a fair amount of lighthearted material from the original. Namely, this version of “Mulan” does not feature any musical numbers, and the character of Mushu, famously voiced by Eddie Murphy, has been removed entirely. These might sound like drastic changes, but they were good changes to make. Mushu and the musical numbers just would not have meshed well with the tone of this “Mulan.”
It should also be noted that, while there are no grand musical numbers in the movie, many of the musical themes and motifs of the original’s classic songs work their way into the film. They’re often used as key parts of the film’s musical score. By doing this, the new “Mulan” is still able to capture the emotional energy of songs like “Reflection” and “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” but it does so without interrupting the narrative flow of the film.
This version also tests Mulan in ways the original did not.
Obviously, there is the struggle of her pretending to be a man in order to fight in the Emperor’s army and bring honor to her family. That’s the core of the story. However, a new emotional challenge comes in the form of a villainous witch who serves as a narrative foil to Mulan. Both women are told they would never be allowed to fight and they should stay home and take more traditional roles for women in society. While Mulan decided to work within the system to save her family and home, the witch decided to assist in burning the system down by siding with Rouran invaders, the driving antagonistic force of the film. Mulan and the witch come into conflict with each other frequently, and at each point they’re forced to confront alternate versions of what they might’ve been. It was an incredibly interesting dynamic, and it was easily one of the best parts of the film.
Now onto the big question: is the film worth shelling out $30 or not? I would say it only is if you’re splitting the cost with a few people.
Having a few friends pitch in to watch this version of “Mulan” could make for a pretty entertaining experience. But if you’re wanting to watch it by yourself, I’m not sure it’s worth $30 out of pocket. It might be best to wait and watch it in December without the additional charge. Regardless of the method you may choose to view it, I’d still say the new “Mulan” is certainly worth a watch.
There are solid changes made to the story to make it a new experience, but it still maintains the soul of what the animated version was. It’s a hard balance to strike, and the film deserves credit for that. It’s one of the best live-action remakes Disney has produced to date, and it’s a shame it couldn’t be experienced on the big screen.