“Mulan” (US Rated PG-13)
Cast: Liu Yifei, Jason Scott Lee, Donnie Yen, Jet Li, Gong Li
Genre: Action, Adventure
Let’s talk numbers:
Disney’s new live-action remake of its 1998 blockbuster historical animated adventure film, “Mulan”, cost an estimated $200 million dollars to make.
After its official premiere earlier in the year, this latest in the studio’s sometimes baffling push to create these live-action and/or highly advanced computer animation versions of all their animated hits, was officially released on the internet for on-demand viewing early last month, and in theaters in China a week later.
Global box office estimates so far, after approximately six weeks, have “Mulan” pulling in just under $70 million.
Compare that to other Disney remakes in their opening weekends alone: “Aladdin”, $91.5 million; “Beauty and the Beast”, $174.8 million; “The Lion King”, $191.8 million.
Yes, this has been an extremely challenging year. In many countries, people aren’t allowed anywhere near theaters. And for those who want to watch “Mulan” at home, there are some other issues.
It was made available first on the studio’s Disney+ subscription video on-demand streaming service – a service still not legally available here in The Bahamas. A few weeks later, it was made available on other streaming platforms as well. However, that comes with another number that’s been unsettling for some: the cost to purchase “Mulan” is $29.99!
So, depending where you go to watch movies, that works out to either the same money it would cost you purchase one ticket and popcorn or the cost of three whole tickets. Even with the standard extras that come with that purchase (with bonus content and deleted scenes, just like a DVD – remember those?), for some, that’s a tough sell.
And while very few at the moment seem prepared to brand “Mulan” as an outright flop, it is very clear it has underperformed.
But besides cost and accessibility, why? The pandemic hasn’t helped, of course. And after last year’s lackluster verbatim remake of “The Lion King”, perhaps the audience has had enough. I know I’ve not been particularly enthused at the thought of another retelling.
More than likely the problem lies with many aspects of the very concept of “Mulan” itself. Even though it performed very well at the box office, the animated “Mulan” was never in the top tier of beloved Disney classics – certainly not in the same league as a “Beauty and the Beast” or especially “The Lion King”. And it doesn’t seem the level of interest in this update was comparable to any of the other live-action versions to-date.
Most importantly, however, this new “Mulan” is a conflicted film, one that seems uncertain of what it wants to be and to whom it is trying to appeal.
As with the animated film, and based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan,
a fearless young woman disguises herself as a man to save her ailing father from serving in the Imperial Army, and battles northern invaders in China.
The 1998 version – like most of the animated classics from Disney’s renaissance era in the 1990s – was a musical, and was tailor-made to appeal to children, with talking animals and inanimate objects, many providing comic-relief from some of the deeper and darker storylines.
On the other hand, new “Mulan” 2020 is all business. Yes, there’s a PG-13 rating in the United States (US), but this ain’t exactly for the kids. Last year’s “Aladdin” remake was definitely updated and modernized to fit better with our modern sensibilities, but still managed to keep its energy-levels up, with music and humor.
No such luck here. Instead of talking dragons, we and Mulan (but nobody else) see a silent phoenix, and we get battle scenes resembling those that had viewers on the edge of their seats on TV’s “Game of Thrones”.
And while the thought of a war pic set in Ancient China might sound appealing to some folks, don’t exactly expect the in-your-face brutality of a “Game of Thrones” here. People won’t be split in two or have all their entrails splayed about the battlefield. In fact, there’s very little blood shown at all.
So, it won’t satisfy the bloodlust for some viewers, but it’s still a lot for youthful audiences. Again, who’s this for?
In any event, those issues are small things compared to the biggest challenge for “Mulan”. Unlike “Aladdin” or “The Jungle Book” and even “Cinderella”, unfortunately “Mulan” falls into the column of Disney remakes that add very little to the viewing experience over the animated version.
It joins the utterly disappointing “The Lion King” in appearing to be a remake for the sake of remaking.
The cast is fine, but there is a general sense of diminished exuberance all around. It’s not boring, but if ever anything needed a little Ginseng or Cordyceps…
Still, there are number of positives. “Mulan” is entertaining, and full of
wonderfully empowering messages. The credits have songs featuring Christina Aguilera, who sang the original’s most famous song, “Reflection”. She’s back with an updated 2020 version of performance. Hear it once, and it will be stuck in your head for days!
And “Mulan” is a joy to behold. It’s one of the most visually stunning movies I’ve seen in years, with indescribably beautiful vistas and sets and color and lighting. Plus, the visual effects are first-rate. For God’s sake, do yourself a favor and refuse to watch this gorgeous film on one of those pirated DVDs or a junk streaming site. It deserves better than that. You deserve better than that!
But when you crunch the numbers, while worth seeing, the number of positives in “Mulan” – like many of these live-action remakes – doesn’t quite add up to a picture that is a must-see!
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.