In recent years Disney have been remaking their classic cartoon musicals as live-action blockbusters. And with the likes of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King making over $1 billion worldwide apiece, its unsurprising that the studio continues to retool its back catalogue for new audiences and the nostalgia of fans. The latest to get the treatment is 1998’s Mulan, based on the ancient Chinese folk tale the Ballad of Mulan, in which a young woman disguises herself as a man to take her aged father’s place in the army.
To be fair, when the first trailer for Mulan’s live-action adaptation landed, we had high hopes.
A war epic with an Asian female lead looked both thrilling and timely.
But then as production took off, it soon became apparent that the film was departing its Disney inspiration to move more towards a traditional Chinese interpretation of the Ballad of Mulan.
Of course, this is no bad thing in and of itself. But if a studio chooses to go that way, we’d have hoped they would at least have gone the whole hog.
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If another studio other than Disney had adapted the Ballad of Mulan, it would probably be a gritty, bloody and historical narrative with a 15 certificate.
Instead, what Mulan has ended up being is something of a half-way house between a customary reading of the legend and modern Disney tropes without their usual magic and charm.
Gone are the cartoon musicals hits like I’ll Make a Man Out of You and Reflection, with only brief instrumental moments popping up in the film.
While comedy dragon Mushu (played by Eddie Murphy in the original), arguably one of the best characters in the 1998 movie, was scrapped entirely.
Not even Liu Yifei’s impressive martial arts skills as Mulan, Jet Li’s gruff Emperor or Donnie Yen’s Commander Tung add much to this disappointment.
At least an interesting change to the original story was seeing Shan Yu’s Hayabusa the Falcon turned into a powerful shapeshifting witch called Xian Lang, portrayed by Gong Li.
She works closely with the remake’s version of Shan Yu in Jason Scott Lee’s Bori Khan.
And it was certainly refreshing to see a big blockbuster with a female hero and villain taking on each other.
However, as Mulan progresses, it feels like Xian Lang is somewhat sidelined for Bori Khan, when earlier on in the movie she feels very much the front-and-centre baddie.
To be fair, the new movie is not unwatchable, even if for large portions nothing really happens. There as some decent action sequences and entertaining character interactions, but those songs are sorely missing.
All in all, it was probably good that Mulan ending up skipping the cinemas as this sadly feels very much like a TV movie.
Mulan is streaming on Disney+ from Friday, September 4, with a premium access fee of £19.99.