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Review: Mulan Is One Of Disney’s Better Live-Action Remakes And A Great Movie On Its Own

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BY September 8, 2020
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One of the most anticipated movies of 2020 was the live-action remake of Disney’s Mulan. After its theatrical release got delayed and then canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the movie finally released on Disney+. The premium access to Mulan, requiring Disney+ subscribers to pay more on top of their monthly subscription, upset many. However, I shelled out the extra bucks to watch the movie in the comfort of my own home. So check out my Mulan live-action review to see if it’s worth it for you to do the same. 

Mulan Remains One Of Disney’s Most Progressive And Iconic Princesses

Live-Action Mulan review animated. Image via Disney+.

The animated Mulan stands out from Disney’s other lineup of princess movies for a very specific reason; no man in her life solves all her problems. I’m not at all knocking the other Disney princess movies that were more a product of their time, based on even older folklore, legends, and fairytales in the public domain. But Mulan is a character whose motivations came from duty, honor, loyalty, and a sense of nationalism that’s really not present in any of the other Disney princess stories. 

Set in China during the Han dynasty, Mulan was the story of a young Chinese girl with a strong spirit. Told that she’s destined for marriage, things change when war comes knocking at her door. The Emperor instates conscription during wartime, which means one man from every family has to fight in the war. Without any sons, Mulan’s father has to go, which certainly means death given his age. To protect her family, Mulan steals her father’s armor and joins the army in his stead, pretending to be a man.

Disney’s Live-Action Mulan Plays The Story As A Drama Instead

Live-Action Mulan review matchmaker. Image via Disney+.

While the story sounds like it’s a hilarious hi-jinks filled cross-dressing adventure, there is so much more to it than that. Mulan is constantly reminded that she’s a girl, whereas, if she were a boy, they would celebrate her inherent traits, not condemn them. Despite this, she has a strong sense of loyalty and duty to her family and country. The animated Disney movie definitely has a more kid-friendly vibe, with the inclusion of comic-relief ghosts in the form of Mulan’s ancestors. Not to mention a bumbling mini-Dragon assigned to be her guardian, voiced by the incredible Eddie Murphy. 

The live-action Mulan strips out those more, let’s say, kiddie elements to play the movie like a straight-up drama. This doesn’t mean its devoid of humor, but they don’t come at the expense of the emotional story at its core, about a girl constantly rejected in her society because of her gender. And it totally works. As this live-action Mulan review will discuss, the change in tone and atmosphere works in this movie. While still making it entertaining, engaging, and interesting, even for kids, as my own young’uns can attest to. 

Live-Action Mulan Review Showcases Its Heart

Live-Action Mulan review Tzi Ma Image via Disney+.

Disney’s live-action Mulan goes the extra mile to have included a diverse cast and talent behind the camera as well. The incredibly strong cast sees some powerful performances from familiar faces like Donnie Yen as Mulan’s commander in the army, who eventually acknowledges her dedication to her country. The standout is the always incredible Tzi Ma as Mulan’s loving father who tries to reconcile his daughter’s fiery spirit, with the expectations on her from the society he’s trying to raise her in. Other familiar faces include Rosalind Chao as Mulan’s mother, Li Gong as a villainous witch, Jason Scott Lee as the villain Bori Khan and Jet Li as the Emperor. And all of them are supporting the titular heroine of the story, Mulan herself played by Yifei Liu. 

Liu is wonderful in the live-action Mulan review, playing a character with so many layers. Mulan has to respect her father’s wishes, but also defy them to save his life. She wants to fight for her country, at the risk of bringing dishonor to her family. Something she constantly struggles with throughout the story. And it’s here that the live-action Mulan diverges from the animated, in glorious ways. 

The Major Differences from The Animated To Live-Action Mulan

The animated Mulan was a great movie. It features similar themes in simplistic ways with narrative devices that complimented the drama-heavy premise with comedy and lighthearted moments. The live-action Mulan is an emotional story driven by Mulan’s need to accept herself before she can fight for her place in society. 

Exposing The Deception 

Live-Action Mulan review soldier. Image via Disney+.

As expected her deception of being a man in the army eventually comes to an end. In the animated movie, this happens after an incredible action sequence where Mulan, as her male alter ego, saves her entire garrison from the villain. After an injury, they discover that she’s a woman, humiliates and kicks her out despite her bravery. In the live-action Mulan, no one is aware that Mulan saves them in the same situation. And after an encounter with a powerful witch who senses Mulan’s secret, she chooses to reveal herself to her superiors and peers in the army.

This is an important distinction because instead of being exposed, Mulan herself decides to reveal herself and face the consequences of her actions. But without leveraging how she just moments before saved everyone’s life. Her army superior and peers knew enough about her was as a person to accept or reject her at that moment. It wasn’t necessary for their life-debt to Mulan to influence their decision. It also makes her eventual acceptance by them based on her identity, and not her actions. 

The Message Is Stronger And More Nuanced

Live-Action Mulan review Witch. Image via Disney+.

The themes of Mulan are never hamfisted or obvious. I mean, sure, it’s obvious that it’s about how a woman can do just as much, if not more than a man, to oversimplify it. But it’s never portrayed in an after-school special kind of way. And the live-action Mulan is even more nuanced. Throughout the live-action movie, we hear of the concept of a Chi; the inherent life-force, energy, or soul of a person. Mulan is constantly told she has a strong Chi, but that he has to suppress it as a woman. However, in the army, everone celebrates her strong Chi, when they think she’s a man.

In her first encounter with the Witch, she tells Mulan how her deceit is affecting her Chi and making her weaker. Before this, Mulan struggled with her lie being at odds with the virtue of honesty that her society stands for. It’s only after realizing that her lies are dampening her Chi, making her too weak to fight for her country, that she reveals herself to the world as a woman. It’s a great metaphor for the impact that lies and deception can have on a person, and that true strength comes from being who you are. 

The Live-Action Mulan Is A Must Watch

Mulan Image via Disney+.

Disney has recently remade a lot of their animated movie properties into live-action, with mixed results. But the live-action Mulan is a great example of how to remake source material while retaining the original’s soul. This Mulan is a more straight-faced serious telling of the original Hua Mulan legend. It deals with the heart of a woman and how she struggles between her loyalties to family, country, and herself. And there is still enough humor, spectacle, and tense action sequences to appeal to a broader audience. It’s never boring, despite all the character-building moments. I watched the live-action Mulan with my very young kids, late at night, fully expecting them to doze off in between. But they stuck through it, riveted, captivated, and invested. Which is a pretty good barometer for the quality of a film in our household. 

Mulan is currently streaming on Disney+ with Premium Access. 

What did you think of the live-action Mulan? Let m know in the comments below. 

Featured image via Disney+. 

MoviesDisneyDisney PlusDonnie YenJet Lilive-actionmulanNiki CaroYifei Liu

Shah Shahid is an entertainment writer, movie critic (so he thinks), host of the Split Screen Podcast (on Apple Podcasts & everywhere else) and filmy father on a mission to educate his girls on decades of film history. Armed with uncontrollable sarcasm and cautious optimism, Shah loves discussing film, television and comic book content until his wife’s eyes glaze over. So save her by engaging him on his own blog at BlankPageBeatdown.com or on Twitter @theshahshahid.

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