Mulan is by far the best of live-action Disney remakes as it takes a familiar story and twists it to create something with absolutely stunning cinematography and great fight scenes that truly makes it feel new and epic.
Director: Niki Caro
Summary: When the Emperor of China issues a decree that one man per family must serve in the Imperial Army to defend the country from Northern invaders, Hua Mulan, the eldest daughter of an honored warrior, steps in to take the place of her ailing father. Masquerading as a man, Hua Jun she is tested every step of the way and must harness her inner-strength and embrace her true potential. It is an epic journey that will transform her into an honored warrior and earn her the respect of a grateful nation…and a proud father.
It really is a shame that Mulan is being released a PVOD instead of being seen in theaters. From the moment the movie begins, it very much feels like a movie meant to be seen on the biggest screen possible. We can only hope that Disney will do some sort of theater release sometime down the line so we can see this movie the way it was supposed to be seen. However, that isn't the reality that we live in today, so this movie is here in this format and well worth the $30. Thus far, the Disney live-action remakes have been a mixed bag. There have been the outright bad entries like Dumbo, there has been the shot for shot remakes like The Lion King, there have been the one's that just add a bunch of stuff to appease pedantic nitpickers like Beauty and the Beast, and then there are the one's that really try to do something interesting with their remakes like The Jungle Book, Maleficent, and Cinderella to an extent. Mulan very much falls in the last camp as it is not a shot for shot remake, and it doesn't add a ton of new material either for the pedantic nitpickers. If anything, Mulan leans in on the more magic and surrealism aspects without a hint of irony.
The bare bones of the original Disney film are here. Mulan is the oldest daughter of a family when the Northern invader's attack and one man from every family in China must come to fight. Her father can barely walk, let alone fight, so she poses as a man to save his life. The musical numbers are replaced with some genuinely stunning fight choreography as star Liu Yifei gracefully moves through fights like she really is a warrior from legend. Director Niki Caro makes every single scene pop in a truly stunning way. This is a movie of color from the setting to the costumes to everything. The colors pop here in a way that really should be seen on a bigger screen.
There are some things that they add to the movie, with the biggest being the witch/sorceress Xianniang, played by Gong Li. Her entire look is instantly iconic, and her costume is one that we will hopefully see at lots of conventions when conventions are a thing that are going to happen again. Her character has a very specific purpose that is made apparent early on in the movie, and the things that the film decides to do with her are great. She is an addition that enhances the movie and makes everything look and feel not only more epic but cooler as well. Her powers are very well presented on screen, and she is a lot of fun to watch.
The movie isn't perfect. At just under two hours, there are some areas where the film drags a bit, with the beginning probably being the biggest problem. The moments between the second and third act felt a bit rushed, which is a shame because it was the moment after Mulan is found out. The scene that we get is incredible, but, unfortunately, it's only one scene. If the movie had to be under two hours, perhaps something in the training montage or the beginning could have been cut to help that emotional beat hit harder. That's not to say there aren't emotional beats that don't hit; if you were one of the people that teared up at the orchestral version of Reflection from the first trailer you'll be happy to know it makes an appearance in the movie and is just as much of a gut punch as you would expect.
Mulan is the best of the live-action remakes so far, so the fact that it is always going to have the specter of "straight to PVOD" hanging over its head is a shame. This cast and crew put out a great movie that is absolutely worth the price. We all know what will happen if this fails; the blame will be put on the fact that this is a female-directed, female-focused, and POC leading that failed and not just a possible misstep when it comes to market demand.