This image released by Disney shows Yifei Liu in the title role of “Mulan.” (Jasin Boland/Disney via AP)

This image released by Disney shows Yifei Liu in the title role of “Mulan.” (Jasin Boland/Disney via AP)

REVIEW: Live-action ‘Mulan’ is gorgeous but short on magic

There is more good than bad in ‘Mulan,’ says one reviewer

Out of all of Disney’s animated films, “ Mulan ” was the one that made the most sense as a live-action remake. Not that there haven’t been good and charming live-action remakes over the past decade — Kenneth Branagh’s “Cinderella” being at the top of the pack — but with most of them no matter how expensive or carefully executed or reverent to the source material, I usually walk out wishing I’d just watched the animated version instead.

Part of that might be age. I was in the generation who got to experience Disney’s animated renaissance in real time in the theatres — unaware of course that it was a renaissance, but simply that the films I got to see in the theatre and then on home video were something special. Perhaps it didn’t crystalize just how special they were and are until the live-action remakes became a regular part of the release calendar. Many just weren’t as enchanting or effective as their predecessors. That is mostly a compliment to the gold standard that is the animation. It would be shocking for a live-action version to somehow be better or even equal. Just look at the animated Hakuna Matata next to the “real” one. There is a reason most of these stories were animated in the first place.

“Mulan” was different, though. The animated tale is wonderful and full of fantastic songs, but it’s a war epic. The story, about a young Chinese woman who steps in to serve the army in her aging and ailing father’s place, is naturally and fundamentally suited for the format.

And make no mistake, director Niki Caro’s “Mulan” is without a doubt one of the best of the remakes. It is stunning to look at from beginning to end. The crisp landscapes (shot by cinematographer Mandy Walker), the brightly colored and divinely intricate costumes (from Bina Daigeler), the elaborate fight sequences and the actors faces — especially Liu Yifei, who plays Mulan — are so beautiful that it will take your breath away. It’s abundantly evident that Caro (“Whale Rider”) had a grand and sweeping vision for “Mulan” and for the most part she pulls it off.

“Mulan” falters on the story level, however, feeling both rushed, overlong and oddly light on character development. We barely even get to know Mulan. She’s introduced as a child, wild and carefree running through her village. But she’s not just free-spirited in this version: She actually has magical powers that make her a natural acrobat and, later, warrior. The film cuts abruptly from this revelation to our heroine, who is now older and messing up in front of the matchmaker. It’s still a charming scene, even without Eddie Murphy’s Mushu.

But there’s the problem: Why am I even thinking about Eddie Murphy? Because “Mulan” doesn’t ever let you forget that it is in conversation with the animated film, devoted to hitting the familiar beats of its predecessor instead of telling its own story. Every time you hear the notes from “Reflection,” which is only sung in the credits, you are torn out of Caro’s sumptuous spectacle and once again thinking about the 1998 version and its songs.

“Mulan” has so much going for it, including a roster of amazing Chinese and Chinese-American actors including Jet Li, as the Emperor, Tzi Ma, as Mulan’s father, Rosalind Chao as Li, Donnie Yen as Commander Tung and Jason Scott Lee as the big bad villain Bori Khan. It also decides to introduce a female witch villain played by Li Gong, which doesn’t quite work and distracts from Mulan’s own journey.

There is more good than bad in “Mulan,” and we should be so lucky to get a gorgeous and inspiring war epic that is suitable for children to watch. “Mulan” might even inspire some kids to dip their toes into all that Asian cinema has to offer, which would be the best possible outcome. But something has to give in this blind fealty to the animated films, because it’s getting in the way of greatness.

“Mulan,” a Disney+ release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of violence.” Running time: 115 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

Lindsey Bahr, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Disney

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
47 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health region

1,538 total cases, 399 are active, ten in hospital

This picture of Taghum resident Marc Savard was taken in February when he first spoke to the Nelson Star and little was known about the virus that had shut him out of his job in Wuhan, China. Photo: Tyler Harper
VIDEO: Once an outlier, Nelson man’s COVID-19 experience now typical

Savard was living in Wuhan, China, when the pandemic began

A strong contingent of Trail Smoke Eaters helped out Kiwanis by unloading up to 600 trees at Butler Park on Wednesday, in preparation for their annual Christmas Tree Sale and community fundraiser. The sale starts on Friday, with all funds donated to community groups. Photo: Jim Bailey
Trail Kiwanis Christmas tree sale – a harbinger of the holiday season

Kiwanis is offering free christmas tree delivery for seniors without adequate transportation

Emails letters to editor@trailtimes.ca.
Looking for the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness in Warfield

Letter to the Editor from Robin Siddall of Warfield

Email letters to editor@trailtimes.ca.
Don’t expect face coverings to rid us of Covid

Letter to the Editor from Russ Babcock, Genelle

Mary Cox and Jack Plant dance in their pyjamas and slippers at the morning pyjama dance during the Rhythm Reelers’ 25 Annual Rally in the Valley Square Dance Festival in Chilliwack on June 4, 2011. Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 is Square Dancing Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5

Square Dancing Day, Disability Day and International Ninja Day are all coming up this week

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Kevin Bieksa during his days playing with the Vancouver Canucks. (Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)
Bieksa to guest on free Canucks Alumni ‘Hot Stove’ on Zoom app

Former NHL player has become a game analyst on Sportsnet

Vees goalkeeper Yaniv Perets stands watch while Tyler Ho takes the puck around the back of the net on Nov. 7. The BCHL press release did not name the player who tested positive.(Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Penticton Vees quarantining after player tests positive for COVID-19

The team, staff and billets are isolating while they are tested

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Peter Wilson, left, and Micah Rankin, right, formed the Special Prosecutor team that was tasked with reviewing and litigating charges stemming from the Bountiful investigation. Trevor Crawley photo.
End of Bountiful prosecution wraps up decades of legal battles

Constitutional questions had to be settled before a polygamy prosecution could move forward

2020
Urban wildlife Part VI: The East Kootenay birds of autumn

The work of local photographers printed in the pages of the East Kootenay Advertiser throughout 2020. Part VI.

Most Read