A young Chinese maiden disguises herself as a male warrior in order to save her father.
The latest movie in Disney’s collection to get the live action treatment is ‘Mulan’, the 90s animation that I can’t recall a great deal about, nor do I remember seeing it at the time. I’ve found it hard not to compare Disney’s previous updates with their animated predecessors, so going in blind so to speak potentially helped my enjoyment of this film and I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected too. Most filmgoers will be familiar with the narrative however for those who aren’t, ‘Mulan’ is a film about a young woman (Liu Yifei) in ancient China who disguises herself as a man in order to take her father’s place in the Emperor’s Imperial Army to defend the country from invaders. It’s based on a Chinese legend and the source material is perfect for Disney, who have long traded in stories of characters finding themselves in one way or another.
In the move from animation to live action, director Niki Caro has clearly focused on crafting spectacular action sequences to do justice to a story with lots of battle scenes and fighting, and this is where ‘Mulan’ is a very impressive piece of work. The fighting sequences, of which there are many, are kinetic, exciting and blend trademark elements of Asian action cinema such as martial arts with Hollywood production values. Filmed against a backdrop of location shoots in China and in New Zealand, this is as good as any Disney film has looked and I found it to be very immersive. On the downside, the personal dynamics are less strong and I don’t think they carry the weight they’re intended too, which did reduce how invested I was in each character’s fate.
‘Mulan’ is notable for another reason and that is the decision by Disney to bypass cinemas and send the film straight to Disney + for a one-off purchase fee on top of the monthly subscription for the service. The success or failure of this move could have significant consequences for the ever-changing dynamic between traditional cinema release windows and home screenings, and it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. For my part, with cinemas back open again in the UK, I’d have far preferred the option to see this on a big screen where justice would be done to the exciting action sequences and the stunning backdrops.
‘Mulan’ is one of Disney’s stronger re-adaptations after the relative disappointment of ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Dumbo’ (in quality, if not box office takings), and I think it’s succeeded in large part because the filmmakers and director Niki Caro in particular have used the specific qualities of live action to their advantage to tell the same story in a way that feels fresh, original and inventive. I thought this was a pretty good movie and it surpassed my fairly muted expectations going into it – is it worth £20 to rent? I’m not so sure about that…
Directed By: Niki Caro
Starring: Liu Yifei, Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Gong Li, Jet Li, Tzi Ma and Rosalind Chao