Niki Caro’s Mulan has undoubtedly been in a fair share of headlines before it’s release on Disney+ on Friday. The willingness to take this live remake and test the waters of premium on-demand was shocking but not entirely surprising. The animated classic certainly has universal appeal, and of course, there’s that pesky pandemic that’s ongoing. With sixty million subscribers worldwide, launching a 200 million dollar live-action epic is a calculated gamble that could pay huge dividends down the road. Only a small percentage of the subscribers would have to pay the $29.99 to make back that budget. Anyone who thinks that if this proves to be successful that Disney won’t keep going down this road is foolish.
Mulan is chock full of eye-popping visuals and luscious landscapes, creating a delightful viewing experience for all. Caro scouted some fantastic locations to shoot in both China and New Zealand. Mixing in some thundering clashes and Wuxia inspired fight sequences, and the film is Game of Thrones meets Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Yifei Liu, Gong Li, and Donnie Yen are equally terrific in the movie. Where the movie falls apart is the narrative feels too reliant on its animated past, even relying on some familiar Disney tropes.
Like its animated predecessor, the live-action Mulan is an origin story, but in Caro’s version, the hero seemingly has supernatural powers. There is a storyline where our hero faces off a villainess (Gong Li), which had some potential, but Li’s character takes a very Disney turn. It’s these kinds of decisions which hold Caro’s film back from reaching its full potential.
Caro’s Mulan’s most compelling elements dealt with how she handled bonding with a group of men while undercover. At first, she attempts to go with the moment, then towards the middle of the film, rather than just yucking it up, she tries teaching the boys that women can be more than a pretty face. With a script this generic, the film only could go so far. However, issues aside, Mulan certainly shows how uncomfortable boys can make for a woman. I’m not sure this was Caro’s goal, but it’s a good lesson for all.
Ultimately, Mulan isn’t perfect, but neither was the original animated release. Caro’s film translates well both at home and in theaters. Given my previous thoughts on a particular Christopher Nolan film and Caro’s latest release, the choice is clear, and my rating reflects that.