“Mulan” Review: Disney’s New Film Is A Visually Stunning Addition To Their Live-Action Remakes

by Sarah Ruhlman
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Before everything happened this year, I was so fortunate to get the opportunity to attend the Mulan movie premiere. I can’t wait for things to get back to normal, but luckily you won’t have to keep waiting for the magic of Mulan. Disney’s Mulan is now available on Disney+ with Premier Access! I’ve got the scoop on the movie, but also check out my first thoughts in the tweet below!

Mulan has been a beloved character and an iconic film in the Disney franchise since the original animated film came out in 1998. Devoted Disney lovers all over the world have anticipated a live-action adaptation for quite some time and it’s finally available. Disney’s retelling of Mulan is available through Disney+ Premium on September 4th! The streaming service announced that the fee to upgrade to premium will be $30. However, on December 4th, three months after the film’s initial release, Mulan will be available to all Disney+ subscribers.

Disney’s MULAN…Mulan (Yifei Liu) ..Photo: Jasin Boland.. © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Summary of Disney’s Mulan

Just like its animated counterpart, this film follows the story of Mulan. A selfless young woman goes from a maiden who needs matchmaking to a heroine who stands against oppression. Mulan (Yifei Liu) makes sacrifices for the sake of her family, uses her natural gifts in battle, and does what it takes to defend the place and people she loves. Trust is earned, bonds are formed and hearts break along the way to create this action-packed blockbuster retelling.

There is significantly less humor in the live-action film, as it is giving a more accurate portrayal of love and self-abnegation. Light-hearted moments are dispersed, but comedic characters and random outbursts of songs will not be found here.

Disney’s MULAN..Mulan (Yifei Liu)..Photo: Film Frame..© 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 

Genre/Rating

This live-action adaptation wedges itself comfortably in the middle of the drama and action/adventure genres. The journey of Mulan is arguably one of Disney’s best adventure stories. This fan-favorite character is both a princess and the heroine of her own story. However, the real struggles that Mulan faces is part of what sets her story apart from others in the Disney franchise. This action-packed genre is sure to entertain the whole family and as any princess film should, will show its young female audience what they are capable of.

The rating is where this new storytelling starts to diverge from Disney’s original. The 1998 animated film had an all-inclusive G-rating to match its young audience. However, the live-action retelling of Mulan has a PG-13 rating due to the prevalence of violence in the film.

Disney’s MULAN..Photo: Film Frame..© 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Fans Having Been Anticipating Live-Action Mulan For Quite Some Time

When Disney first began their journey into retelling their classic animated films, it didn’t take long for fans to start asking to see a live-action Mulan. There’s a lot of pressure when it comes to telling the same story twice. There is both a desire to stay close to the original and as there is in any live-action film, there is a tug towards realism and avoidance of plot points that might take the audience out of the story.

A couple of big setbacks kept this film from being released soon after its production wrapped in 2018. Just as the entire entertainment industry was disrupted by the COVID-19 crisis, Mulan had to push release dates in response. The ongoing health crisis in the United States has forced Disney to release this film on its streaming platform rather than the intended theatrical release. Though the decision to keep everyone safe is the honorable choice, the film was definitely made for the big screen.

Additionally, the film faced scrutiny when lead actress Yifei Liu posted a controversial statement on the social media site Weibo. Her outspoken support of Hong Kong’s police put her on the far side of an intense political divide. According to the New York Post, many angry fans took to social media and threatened a boycott of the film because the actress was not embodying the character of Mulan in this real-life issue.

Disney’s MULAN..Photo: Film Frame..© 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Animated Original To Live-Action Adaptation

There are a few key differences that distinguish the original Mulan from this retelling. Inevitably, fans were saddened by the loss of some iconic characters, but a live-action movie is a bit more limited when it comes to talking creatures. Unfortunately, fan-favorite character Mushu, the little dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy, will not be present in the new film. In order to create a true-to-life story, the director did not feel like there was a place for the creature that brought much of the original film’s comedic relief. However, some of the more jovial moments of comradery come from Mulan’s closeness with other soldiers rather than the fire-breathing friend.

In an interview with USA Today, the director explained that his absence was necessary, but required addressing: “We were very inspired by what Mushu brought to the animation, which was the humor and the levity, and the challenge was to bring that to Mulan’s real relationships with her fellow soldiers.” 

Both of Disney’s movies are based on old Chinese folklore known as “The Ballad of Mulan” that has been passed down for centuries. Though Disney introduced many people to this story, it has existed and has been told and retold countless times since its origin. It is not Disney’s story, but we are grateful to be shown the story of this courageous woman that we might not know otherwise.

Disney’s MULAN..Mulan (Yifei Liu)..Photo: Film Frame..© 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Mulan‘s Director

The film’s director, Niki Caro, has built an impressive resume of directing, writing and producing credits throughout her career in the industry. A common thread between the gifted storyteller’s films is her knack for creating stunning visuals. Mulan is filled with gorgeous shots that capture the beauty in the extraordinary and the every day. Other films under Niki Caro’s direction include The Zookeeper’s Wife, McFarland USA, and Whale Rider.

Niki Caro made authenticity her first priority when given the opportunity to bring this film to life. According to Vanity Fair, Caro understood the responsibility of telling this story from the perspective of a culture that is not her own. The producer, Bill Kong, was a part of many creative decisions and it was imperative to the film’s creators to have an all-Asian cast. Caro is a trailblazer for women in the industry, as she is one of few who have been given creative reign of a project this large. We can’t wait to see more of every kind of film directed by women in Hollywood, but especially big-budget films that have previously been unavailable to them.

Disney’s MULAN..The Emperor (Jet Li)..Photo: Film Frame..© 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Stunning Visuals & Gorgeous Colors

The beauty of this story is shown in the grandeur of its setting. The visuals including set design, costumes, and props are practically their own characters, for the storytelling would be significantly affected without them. Colors, architecture, and clothing was incredibly important for the cast and crew to get right when telling Mulan’s iconic story.

With one of the largest production budget’s in history ($200+ million), this film spared no expense to recreating this important story. The grandeur of the film definitely reflects the big Hollywood budget.

According to TechTimes, the film was primarily shot in areas of New Zealand, though the story is meant to take place in ancient China. The lush natural scenery of New Zealand contributed to the brilliant shots with its green landscape. This film isn’t the first to film on location there. In the last few years, many blockbuster films have chosen to shoot their projects in the gorgeous country, which has created a booming entertainment industry there. Local businesses have also been said to benefit from increased commerce. The film’s director is originally from New Zealand. Her knowledge of the natural beauty certainly played into the perfect visuals that made it into the film.

Disney’s MULAN..Photo: Film Frame..© 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 

Mulan Soundtrack

A common qualm among fans of the animated film is the lack of singing in the remake. However, Niki Caro made the creative decision to remove that aspect form the film as she thought it would take away from the tone of the film. According to Inside the Magic, the director explained, “We don’t tend to break into song when we go to war. Not saying anything against the animation because the songs are brilliant and if I could squeeze them in there, I would have. But we do honor the music from the animation in a very significant way, that’s all I’ll say.”

Caro’s dedication to telling the story is clear in all of her creative decisions and it certainly created a tonal difference between the animated and live-action films. Knowing how important the music was to viewers, she was dedicated to keeping the recognizable melodies in the film in some capacity. The iconic music weaves its way into the film and references to lyrics made their way into scripts.

Find The Score On Spotify/Apple Music

The music in this film is gorgeous. The soundtrack will be available in full on Apple Music and Spotify after the films release on Disney+ Premium. These songs belong on your girl power playlist. There are emotionally intense orchestral pieces that perfectly guide audiences through the action-packed film as well as two singles by Christina Aguilera. The superstar recorded “Loyal Brave True” for the film as well as performing a new version of the iconic “Reflection.” You’ll be blasting this song in your car in no time, we can promise you that.

Disney’s MULAN..L to R: Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee) and Xianniang (Gong Li)..Photo: Film Frame..© 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Mulan tells a story of bravery, sacrifice, and strength. Though this retelling lacks Mushu and puts action at the forefront, it is still the story of Mulan. She is a courageous, young woman who sets her mind to something and sees it through. It’s a story of selflessness that will always be relevant and deserves to be told time and time again. Check out Disney’s new Mulan on Disney+ Premium (September 4th) or your regular Disney+ subscription (December 4th)!

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