3 redeeming qualities of Mulan: The Aspect Ratio, the cool witch makeup, and the casting of Tzi Ma as the father who adds decency to a film that doesn’t offer much.
Out of all the Disney remakes, the only one I really like is Cinderella. Rebuilding a 65 year old film whose politics and motivations truly come from a different place and time is updated by an active experienced yet classical filmmaker working within a simple story. The farther back Disney usually goes with their remakes the better they usually are. The Jungle Book being another example. Out of the more recent Disney remakes Dumbo was the last one to resemble anything like an actual film and not corporate propaganda. Perhaps because its message is so ironically anti-corporate. All films might be propaganda, but coming from Disney their recent messaging has become tired and boring.
Disney more than any company has rode the wave of virtue signaling in these live action remakes. Maybe its the pandemic delaying a film we all would have forgotten about by now but the messaging here feels particularly empty and tired when remaking of a fairly recent 1998 film. For the record Mulan is the cheapest looking $200M film I have ever seen. In its world the women are all powerful from the outset. Where the original Mulan struggled with the physical challenges of maintaining her identity and had to use her wits to succeed, this new even more independent Mulan who is always referred to by her family name faux or not breezes through any challenge put before her. It does not make for a very engaging watch. It’s the same problem the Star Wars sequels had but were given bigger fish to fry. The film’s antagonist is also all-powerful. A witch that makes you wonder despite hasty exposition why exactly again she has to team with the “real bad guys” to get things done. The answer is something-something patriarchy but Mulan isn’t really interested in exploring it. It is interested in absolutely nothing except rushing from point A to point B. Virtually everyone looks like they had their mind on something else. Jet Li is there but is so passive I did not really recognize him until doing research. Donnie Yen is there to make you go hey that’s Donnie Yen he’s cool. So like Star Wars once the movie exhausts its source material it makes a martyr out of its villain in order to escape any real story consequence. Mulan extends its narrative twenty five minutes over the original (overlong like most modern blockbusters) to make the CGI crazy action film it should have made in the first place instead of the shiny cultural epic it purports to be. One wonders if it really were too good to for streaming might it be kicked to next year like Jungle Cruise.
Sans original songs and Mushu (a fan favourite character excised for being ‘trivializing’ and unrealistic) the movie loses a lot of the original’s sprite. It’s also heavily Bollywood inspired while retaining western blandness. Ignoring what Mike Pence might have told you Mulan’s tale of Duty, Honor and Family is actually fairly uniquely conservative. Unfortunately thanks to either Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver’s (Rise of The Planet of the Apes, Jurassic World) latest script re-run or Niki Caro’s direction (the action scenes are at least mildly engaging) Mulan can’t marry the various films it wants to be and ends up nothing more than another cog in the corporate machine. Mulan is a strong gifted and independent Woman whose gender is conveniently irrelevant but should still reject a job worthy of her abilities provided the family who isn’t really a part of the story gives it their all important blessing. An unsurprisingly cheap way of including tradition for the dream factory.