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  • Writer's pictureDavid Osgar

Should Mulan have been released in cinemas? - Review

It's the big question on the lips of many fans and the media, but the obvious answer is; yes. Initially, Mulan was set to be released on the 27th of March this year but was delayed because of a certain global pandemic.

From the offset, the question as to whether Mulan should be in cinemas will always be a yes. Filmed with IMAX cameras, and as one of Disney's tentpole movies, Mulan hoped to be another success in their chain of billion-dollar remakes. Whether a film like Lady and the Tramp should be on Disney Plus or cinemas is probably the more apt question, but where the controversy has stemmed in regards to 2020's Mulan is the news, and politics surrounding it...

Liu Yifei as Mulan (2020)

As one of the first films affected by the pandemic, Mulan had hoped to be one of the first to help re-open cinemas. But as the world has continued to struggle easing restrictions and operate financially, Disney took the big decision to send Mulan to Disney Plus for a premium price.

Many fans and industry professionals took issue with not only having to pay a premium cost ($29.99 in the US and £19.99 in the UK) on top of a subscription but while doing so in detriment to cinemas.

The movement to boycott Mulan has only got stronger by the star Liu Yifei's controversial opinions towards the Hong Kong protests, alongside the fact it will become apart of your Disney Plus subscription in December.

It's fair to say Mulan has got quite a lot of baggage in regards to being a success (I haven't even mentioned the outrage regarding the exclusion of characters like Mushu, and the original musical numbers). But how does the actual film fair? After all, regardless of its external factors, in this situation, one of the most important questions for Mulan is how good is this adaptation?

Mulan faces off against new love interest Honghui (Yoson An)

All in all, Mulan is a very beautiful, and charming film, it's story and message is in fact quite different from the original 1998 animated film, and that is in no way a detriment to this version, it's simply a different approach.

Does it still re-enact sequences and moments from the original? Of-course, and this is where the film does fall a little limp, as seen similarly in the past with other remakes. The copy and paste moments just can't live up to the previous version, with Disney's devotion to the original forcing us to compare the two.

Though to be fair, Mulan does have a completely new script, not making it feel like other remakes where you're just hearing the same dialogue as before. Ultimately the live-action setting does mean certain scenes like the meeting with the Matchmaker, aren't quite as striking. Though on the flip side, much of the action, and scenes such as in the training camp, do come off a lot stronger, and more real.

One of the most pleasing aspects of this adaptation is its tone, the 1998 Mulan as an animation had the benefit of being able to quickly change from comedy to music, to drama. Live-action just doesn't allow that freedom, so the fact they have focused so much on the mythology, and action really does enhance the experience.

Just as Jon Favreau and Bill Condon did with their adaptations, Niki Caro brings a great sense of scale, detail, and visual flair to the film, with the various locations and Chinese landscapes shown in all their glory.

The performances are all good, with Liu Yifei especially doing a great job of playing the dual role, and being somewhat convincing as a man in the Chinese army (it does require the type of disbelief akin to a grown adult playing a teenager). Other highlights include newcomer and one of Mulan's fellow soldiers Cricket (like the cartoon cricket?) played by Jun Yu.

Gong Li as the witch Xianniang

We also have the inclusion of semi-new characters like Xianniang who is played by the elegant and powerful Gong Li. While this role could have simply become another cliché evil villain, the story involves her quite heavily and uses her in a very interesting and refreshing way.

One direction I did not understand, however, was the role of Jet Li as The Emperor. For an actor with such a soft and higher-pitched voice, to see him play this gravely, wooden, and stern character who barely moved seemed very odd, and often even like he was being dubbed or altered with CGI. I've heard the defence that nobles at this time period would act god-like, but if that was the intention of the film, it doesn't come across very clearly.

The film is more than capable of making its intentions clear, especially the many times we hear the attributes inscribed on Mulan's sword- loyal, brave, and true (now also a new song from Christina Aguilera).

Wrapping up the standouts of the cast Donnie Yen and Tzi Ma also do some great work here as Commander Tung, and Mulan's Father, even though the script does not always allow them the drama and emotion they could easily handle. It's an element that even hinders our main character Mulan, as moments such as her running away from home, revealing her identity, and its aftermath, being glossed over to get to the next big set-piece.

But what about the music? The lack of Mushu and Li Shang? While a lot of this comes down to personal preference, I was more than happy with orchestral versions of many of the songs, even though it did seem strange to not pay tribute to all of them. The replacement for Mushu works a lot better in the context of this story, and especially to Chinese mythology. As for the new love interest? Well, the romance aspect of the original is very minute, and it's much the same case here. Whether the new character was needed is up for debate, but having Honghui be a fellow soldier, certainly did play a lot better than a man in power.

Much like the drama surrounding Mulan the film itself is a mixed bag, but generally a pleasant experience. I'm hoping Disney continues to differentiate their remakes, as this one has done, and feel the visual flair, and ambitious storytelling does ultimately work to create an inspirational story. It is also one of the few remakes to give some form of touching reference to the original, thanks to a certain cameo.

While I do hope Mulan can go to cinemas one day as it was initially intended, for now, I think it best Disney continue to support cinemas and makes this troublesome production, a one-off, unfortunately, plagued as many productions have been by the pandemic...

Do you agree? What are your thoughts on Mulan? Let us know!

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