It’s another age old question that comes with each year, why are we getting a live action remake of a Disney classic? Well the answer comes in many forms, but I’m more about is this remake worth it/good? Given my experience with home releases… these films have not quite held the same bite that the theater has, so I was a bit worried about this delayed feature. However, my reviewing call has me diving in as I take a look at the latest to hit the small screen from Disney, the live action remake of the film:
The Culture And Mythos of China
The Fighting at Parts
The Sound Track
The rushed Story
The Political Prowess Vs. Storytelling
The shoddy Attempts At Making Other Story Components
No Attachment to the Main Characters
Villains are highly downgraded
Comedy Is Forced
Missing the memorable music
The Battles Are short, A bit Cheesy, and Uncoordinated
Battles Lack Suspense
Missing the Spirit Of the Original
It is always inspiring to see the surrounding lands of international countries and Mulan gives one the sense of visiting China and it’s beautiful world. This film’s camera work and design dive heavy into the mythology of the Asian provinces, helping to bend them into the winds of the tale and introduce us to some symbolic values of the culture. This production focused very heavily on the concepts of honor and the discipline the feudal era of this land instilled on men and women who served the dynasty. Maybe a bit stereotypical, but I felt the director was able to integrate the components well and give us the political and story elements that we expected to drive our heroine. The live action Mulan also has a beautiful aesthetic to the characters with the rich patterns, artistic makeup, and props I expected from my limited studies of the ancient lands of China. I loved the build of the world and settings, feeling immersed partly into the field and taking my place next to Mulan and the world that would be her arena.
Speaking of arenas, the fighting of this installment at times steps up its game from the cartoons, breaking out martial arts and weapon styles that I dreamed of doing as a kid. Mulan herself shows off several styles that mirrored the great Kung Fu Works of Lee and Chan (not nearly as fluid, but grandiose) as she fought the army of extras. Other characters managed to pull out some impressive moves, with rapid sword play and archery poses that held that exciting touch I love to see in my fights. While these moments are sparingly, I do give them props for the execution at times and the panning shots of the war as CGI meets real world. And if you’re a parent you got to appreciate the censorship so that the little ones won’t be corrupted. Amidst all this is a beautiful soundtrack, filled with the symphonic works of regular cinema orchestra and Chinese instruments working in tandem to help bring more emotion to the scene or sequence. And despite not having the most vocal work, Christina Aguilera gets her reprise in this film alongside a few other artists at the end to help further broaden Disney Soundtrack creations, which I think came a little too late, but better late than never right? Yet the best thing for me was the cinematography, and how well it captured the environment, the scale of the fights, and those key moments to help bring this live action more to life. Mulan’s visual team deserves a lot of credit for helping add flare to the movie, and give you many references and approaches into one semi-cohesive product.
However, there were a lot of shortcomings for me in this film, which could have been due to watching it at home magnifying them or just the movie itself. The story is rushed, with a lot of pieces thrown into the story and then quickly diced out in various sizes. Caro and her staff tried to inject a lot of things that included stories of training, friendship amongst the soldiers, potential romance, the concept of honor, several villain developing, fighting for herself, and trying to hide her identify. Sure the other version did this, but it did it better, as this film lacked the balance it needed and the fluid execution that other films have done. So many of the characters were background, their names barely mentioned and their stories even sadder as they tried to force everything into bite sized pieces. Only Mulan’s moments held any backbone as her father and hers’s relationship promised a strong beginning, that petered out to Mulan being the only one capable of doing much of anything. I was not attached to most of the other characters, as there was just no focus on them, little personality, and diluted involvement compared to the loveable band of the cartoon. To get the arrows shot at me, I feel this is due to the current method of political agenda over story, this one being the focus of a woman defying all odds to save the war. I have not read the full legend of Mulan, but I expect the writers amplified the woman hear me roar and kind of forgot the other parts of the story. It was that focus that took away from so much of the potential of the movie and all the other characters that could have made Mulan’s tale even better and more fulfilling. Even the villains held potential, but sadly the two main villains were reduced to elaborate, overacted one liners, some empty threats, and few ridiculous looking stunts. I know Shan Yu held little backstory, but there was fear, power, and a merciless mindset to him that made him deadly and a true villain. This guy had a slight mention of his back story and goals, but that was about it as so much of his promise was washed away with the scattered displays of the other characters and the focus on Mulan’s struggles.
In regards to the other areas of improvement, Disney seems to have a hard time being naturally funny anymore, and instead works to force laughter into a film that doesn’t need so much of it. Live action Mulan has little that made me laugh, only the innocence of a youth and few funny tatters getting a chuckle for me. Though the movie had great music to set the stage… it still was not the same magic that Disney laid on my ears years ago. Gone where the whimsical thoughts of the fellow soldiers in song and dance, or the deep ballad Mulan questioning her identity that brought so much life to the cartoon. Those songs obviously would be out of place in a more serious film, but when you don’t support those components strongly, I started to really miss the campy numbers. But again this movie was supposed to be more on showing off the warrior side of Mulan and as I said earlier in ways it did. Yet… in many ways it still failed to pull everything together. This film’s approach again seemed uncoordinated in how in depth they could go, perhaps due to the political focus, perhaps due to the censorship that Disney seems to force on its groups. Mulan’s fights are short with most lasting less than ten minutes, and most of the good fighting scenes lasting less than two. While paying tribute to the classic fights via flying through the air with cables and over the top acrobatics, the movie did a little too much of this and forewent crafting a battle that was coordinated. Scenes jumped around, passing glances of our main cast doing a movie haphazardly interlaid with Mulan doing know wrong, and even the clashing of armies was reduced to overhead shots that were only okay to watch. I felt no suspense for any of these fights, because there was no heat and without caring about the characters I did not really have any ties to the fights at hand. As you can guess, though the cartoon did not have the most action set and worthy fights, it had characters and tense sequences for me because I had grown to care for the small army and that’s what made them special. This one though… missing so much of that and thus while visually beautiful, creative and storytelling wise they were arrows that missed it’s mark.
Disney made a fair shot at the tale of Mulan and succeeded on the fronts I think they were wanting to succeed on. It’s a powerful display of culture and opening up the world of Chinese myth, with costumes and cinematography to really wow those who appreciate these effects. Those looking for the girl power tale will also be highly pleased with this, for many highlights of the fighting are indeed Mulan’s moves and the training she shows off amidst heavy instrument work and sound editing. Yet, the film fails to grasp the magic of the last movie and the components it wanted to focus on were disjointed, not well fleshed out, and very lacking if it did not center on Mulan herself. I did not grasp onto the other characters much at all, I felt no real development of so many elements, and all the facets of the story failed to reach their full potential that I know Disney can make work. As for the battles, again visually the look beautiful and have nods to classic styles of fighting, but they lack the heart and suspense I think these moments need. As such, this Mulan lacks much of the spirit the original cartoon held in more ways than one. Was it worth the thirty dollar admission for early viewing? The answer is no for me, and I would wait this one out for viewing in December when it opens up. My scores for this film are:
Movie Overall: 5.0