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“Mulan” Comes Vividly To Life For Disney

When a live-action remake of Mulan was announced by Disney, there was a mix of excitement and trepidation. On the one hand, the epic feel of the story and the battle sequences were tailor made for the blockbuster treatment. On the other hand, however, would it feel different? After all, a notable contingent of Mulan fans love the animated dragon Mushu, voiced by Eddie Murphy, along with the musical numbers, and that wouldn’t fit this more realistic take. Well, with the movie hitting Disney+ tomorrow (for those willing to pay an extra fee, of course), this is a different feeling work than the animated classic, but it builds on that in interesting ways, making it an undeniable success.

The film follows the same general plot as the cartoon classic, with a young girl disguising herself as a male in order to protect her father. Hua Mulan (Yifei Liu), the oldest daughter of a respected warrior, decides when the Emperor of China (Jet Li) issues an order that one man per family must serve in the Imperial Army, that she’ll be the one to defend the country from a threat led by Böri Khan (Jason Scott Lee). So, pretending to be a man, she steps in to take her sick father’s place. Under the alias of Hua Jun, she is quickly tested and put through the paces of becoming a warrior, something she’s always desired, as opposed to being married off. As she evolves and winds up a key part of saving the Empire, she’ll earn the respect of everyone, from fellow soldiers to her father. It’s a traditional Disney story, just given a new intensity with the live-action variation we see here. Niki Caro directs a screenplay that Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver wrote with Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin. Included in the cast are the likes of Donnie Yen, Gong Li, and more. Harry Gregson-Williams handles the music, while the cinematography is by Mandy Walker.

This is one of the more successful live-action remakes for Disney. Well suited in most respects to this treatment (while dropping the songs, etc), we get an epic feeling action-adventure with a strong female lead, something Hollywood is in short supply of. That they have to mine their cartoon stock to find this is ironic, but the final product speaks for itself. Still, credit to the writers, as well as director Niki Caro for pulling it off. Caro especially deserves kudos for the battles depicted her being crisp and easy to follow. Caro and DP Mandy Walker never let you lose sight of what’s going on, allowing you to appreciate the movement of everyone on the screen. It really goes a long way.

Mulan is spectacular below the line, with vivid colors and fight scenes that breathe live-action life into the tale. There’s a good chance this could be a player in the technical categories at the Oscars, but that remains to be seen. Even if you disregard its Academy Award worthiness, this is still a compelling execution of a family-friend story, still keeping its lessons intact, but pitching them towards a slightly older age group. As fans of Mulan have grown up, so too has this. The battle sequences especially are epic and intense, befitting an audience that can handle a bit more than the last time they saw our heroine in action.

This weekend, fans of the original Mulan will be really pleased, give or take a demand for Eddie Murphy’s dragon, when this drops on Disney+. Whether they’re willing to pay the extra price tag is another story, and something I’ll leave out of this review, but if we’re just taking quality into account, it’s worth seeing. Disney has another live-action success on their hands, and this is one of their better ones, to date.

Be sure to check out Mulan on Disney+ tomorrow!

(Photos courtesy of Disney)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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