There is a great deal to say about the new live-action remake of Disney’s Mulan – without actually talking about the content of the film. First, it has accumulated controversy politically, to the point of being boycotted by many critics.
Second, it represents a possible turning point for several significant trends in the film industry and that could change how you consume new major studio movies in the future. This has led to other, completely non-political controversies.
It would take a lot of ink to discuss all of the political controversies around Mulan, so to sum it up as succinctly as possible: Disney’s getting extremely friendly with the Chinese government lately and a lot of Americans just aren’t huge fans of the Chinese government. The non-political controversy is a bit more interesting to me and might be for you as well. It costs $30 to watch Mulan! And that’s only if you also pay money to Disney for a Disney+ subscription (though it will be available for free with a subscription in December).
No major studio movie has gotten to release to theaters normally since March. Many opted to release their films straight to streaming and use them instead to increase the value of their streaming platforms. Onward, Da 5 Bloods, and many other films took this route. Disney felt so strongly that their hard-made movie deserved to make them millions of dollars directly from consumers, they decided to charge $30 to watch it while still making customers pay the subscription fee for their streaming platform. Other movies this year have released to streaming with a fee or with a subscription, but Mulan is the only one to demand both. Naturally, some people dislike that. It will be interesting to see how it goes; if it ends up highly profitable for them, they will do more of it and other studios will likely do the same. Post-corona, we may see most major releases getting simultaneous theatrical and paid-streaming releases. I’ve covered a number of Disney’s live-action remakes, and they’ve been mixed for me so far.
So how does 2020’s Mulan fair?
In the opening scene, a young Hua Mulan does something odd. She chases a chicken across the roofs of three-stories-high buildings in her village until she suddenly slips and falls. What! Surely there is no way our young heroine could survive such a fall! (Warning: spoiler alert.) She survives. Mid fall, she does a slow-motion, Matrix-style flip and stunts her way to the ground safely.
The scene just felt laugh-out-loud goofy.
As the film goes on, it is explained that Mulan has powerful chi. Chi is, literally and in almost every way, the Force from Star Wars. It flows through us all, only some of us are deeply connected enough to have superpowers.
Mulan has superpowers. She has the Force in this movie.
Pretty early in the film, it becomes clear why the choice was made to include chi. The movie deliberately channels the Kung Fu movies of Chinese cinema. During the first half of this movie, chi-as-Kung Fu is used sporadically and feels unnatural. During the second half though, it got really weird. The slow-motion kung fu is so out of place and so silly in a Disney movie that it was oddly kind of great.
None of that is to say this is a great movie – its energy still feels mostly like an accident. But, it’s also not a terrible movie.
The Pros: It really does have great visuals. Not just the kung fu and the special effects, but the cinematography. There are plenty of beautiful and stunning shots in this movie. Also, the avalanche scene was great. (A+ job on the avalanche scene, Mickey.) The final pro is, as mentioned above, this movie is bonkers. I will always pick a bonkers movie over a plain movie.
The Cons: It has a rough start, being silly in un-fun ways for about 65 minutes. Second, the challenge that replaces the iconic “pole climb” scene is way worse. Mulan overcomes a challenge of physical strength by using her superpowers instead of her wit, which ultimately weakens the character.
Finally, this movie really loves the Chinese emperor and pits him against generic one-dimensional villains. One-dimensional villains is it’s own complaint, as I really loved Shan-yu in the animated classic. But more than that, these days it feels like a weird time for a movie to love a Chinese emperor so much.
Overall, I did end up enjoying my time with Mulan, but I’m not sure I can recommend it at a $30 price tag. It will be free with a subscription in December, so I’d recommend waiting. I give Disney’s Mulan (2020) a B-.