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03rd Sep 2020

REVIEW: Mulan is Disney’s most visually stunning live-action remake to date

James Fenton

First things first, let us get the big question out of the way: is Mulan worth the €21.99 “premier access fee” on top of your regular Disney+ subscription fee? Or should you just wait until December 4, when the movie will be released as part of the standard Disney+ service?

Honestly, the answer will likely depend on how many kids you’ve got, and how much you need a new distraction, because while Mulan is a visually breathtaking retelling of the sorta-overlooked 1998 animated classic, it isn’t SO GOOD that it warrants an immediate viewing. Mostly because we’ve all basically seen this movie before, in one form or another…

Disney have mostly hit home-runs at the box office with their streak of live-action remakes, with the quality ranging from great (The Jungle Book), to good (Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin), to pretty-but-bland (The Lion King, Dumbo). Mulan appears to be the biggest leap from the source material to date, with no big songs and no talking dragons. 

Instead, Mulan’s tale of pretending to be a boy so she can replace her elderly father as a drafted soldier by the Emperor against an impending army is more strongly influenced by wuxia movies like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and House Of Flying Daggers. The naturally beautiful landscape, the stunning (and stunningly HUGE) sets, the gorgeous costume and make-up work, all tied in with the kinetic and fluid choreography make this the most lush live-action remake Disney have provided to date.

However, this is still a Disney movie, so while the battle scenes are vaguely intense, they’re also entirely bloodless. Liu Yifei brings grit and confidence to the lead role, but her arc of “female forced to fight back against male-centric rules” is very similar to Princess Jasmine’s in the Aladdin remake. And in a bizarre coincidence, after both The Jungle Book and The Lion King, we’re given another climax fight with our hero and villain fighting in a perilously high position over a raging fire below.

Director Niki Caro has proven here that she knows how to put together an arresting blockbuster (and with a budget of $200 million, it is officially the most expensive movie ever directed by a woman), but she is let down by a script that doesn’t take enough risks. Writer Rick Jaffa (who, after Jurassic World and Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, knows a thing or two about reboots) took out all of the stuff that may have been “too cartoon’y”, but didn’t really replace them with anything.

It all combines to a case of Been There, Seen That, even if what we’ve seen has rarely been as pretty. Mulan arrives exclusively on Disney+ from Friday, September 4, and you can check out the most recent trailer right here…

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