Film in review: “Mulan” by Niki Caro

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The Winonan's film reporter rates this film 2.5/5 stars.

Noah Mruz, Film Reviewer

Imagine the year is 1998. You are 8 years old. You have just watched the animated “Mulan” for the first time. You are probably still singing along to some of the music. Suddenly you have a thought. Why wasn’t the bad guy’s bird in more of the film? I think there is a lot of potential there! If this is something you wondered, then you should have been working alongside Niki Caro and Disney for the 2020 reimaging of “Mulan”, as they would have loved this idea.

Before delving into what was strong and weak about the film, I think it is important to disclose that the animated Mulan was one of my favorite films growing up. It is hard for me not look at this live action remake and not compare it to the original. However, I tried to go into this film with an open mind, despite my childhood adoration.

First off, the film looks wonderful. The cinematography and color choice alone make the movie very enjoyable to watch. Character design and costuming is wonderful as well. If you have seen the original animated story, the characters look very similar to their design in the animated film, which was really great to see. Characters such as Cricket and Hua Zhou bring childlike joy to the film that is otherwise fairly lacking.

On the other hand, the action in the film was mediocre. Nothing too amazing, there were just a few scenes that were fun to watch but each one played the same: Mulan kicks something in slow motion, it lands right where it needs to, everyone looks to Mulan to see how cool she is.

This coming-of-age story follows Mulan facing the difficult challenge of risking death to take her father’s place when her country calls upon him to fight in a war.

The director made it clear from the beginning of the project that there was not going to be any singing in this film in order to bring a more serious presence to the film. Although the lack of music is different to say the least, it didn’t change to much for me. The story itself is very serious, and it would feel much different for this more serious film to suddenly break out in song. However, it was the additions added to the film that I found more distracting than the absence of classic Disney movie singing.

The difference between the 1998 and 2020 film are pretty glaring. For fans of Mushu, Eddie Murphy’s dragon character from the original, I am sorry to say that he does not exist in this world, replaced instead by a phoenix that does not serve much purpose to the film other than to look cool and to remind the viewer that just as the phoenix rises from the ashes, so too will Mulan.

The strangest change of all comes in the antagonists. The bad guy is a completely different character, despite having similar motives and an almost exact appearance and demeanor about him. The antagonist, now named Bori Khan, does not have his bird sidekick. It is now replaced with a magical bird woman who tells Mulan they are similar due to the magical strength of their qi energy. Qi energy is used just like the force from Star Wars, giving superhuman abilities, but in a much more problematic way. I’m no expert how qi energy works, and after watching this film I’m sure director Niki Caro is not either.

Qi is also used to explain why Mulan is so good as a soldier, changing it from hard work and persistence to how she was already born being an amazing soldier. I hated that. The appeal of the original movie was that it showed that anybody could be a great soldier regardless of gender, if you work hard enough and put in the effort. Caro takes that and throws it out the window, because there has to be a reason for her being amazing that makes her an outlier rather than an example to follow. The changes the new film makes are interesting, but they do nothing to enhance the plot or understanding of the story. I would argue they hinder it and subtract from the story.

Overall, I liked the film, but more for the parts that reminded me of the original. The movie itself was alright overall, with a few great performances and great cinematography. However, the action was lackluster, and the changes were strange.

I look at this film in a similar way that I look at the “live action” remake of The Lion King and ask one question: why? Both animated films are classics and these recreations come across as a plea for more money for Disney rather than serving a narrative purpose. Overall, I am giving the film 2.5 out of 5 stars. This film does create enough plot change and updates to show some interesting differences, but not enough to justify putting it behind a $30 pay wall already within Disney’s subscription service to see before December 4.

 

The opinions expressed in this paper are not necessarily those of Winona State University, the Minnesota State Colleges and University system, or the Winona State University student body.