Talking about my thoughts on Mulan (2020)

Warning: This post includes spoilers for Mulan (2020), if you care about that, go watch it before reading. If not, carry on.

Mulan was one of my favourite Disney movies as a kid, and still is. The songs are amazing, I love the storyline, I love the way tonal and visual shifts are used, I love the characters. So when it was announced that they were making a live-action version of Mulan, I was apprehensive. Could they make a movie as magical as the cartoon? The fact that they weren’t making it a musical gave me mixed feelings–I love the songs and always love a musical, but maybe this would allow the movie to stand on it’s own instead of trying to replicate the cartoon.

The trailer was fine when it was released–the cast seemed good, it was aesthetically pleasing–but nothing that made me want to spend $30 on top of my Disney+ subscription to watch it when it was released on the platform a few months ago. Now that the fee has been lifted, I settled down to see for myself what Mulan (2020) was all about.

So like, it wasn’t terrible.

I’ve seen most of the recent live action versions of Disney films, and in my opinion, they vary in quality. The Lion King (2019) does not need to exist and I’m not sure why it does, but it’s still mostly enjoyable because…it’s still The Lion King. Aladdin (2019) made some puzzling changes and I don’t think the casting choice for Jafar was great, but it was charming overall. Beauty and the Beast (2017) was pretty good, and the music was probably the best out of all of these. They’re all fun, and watchable, although my very biased self doesn’t think any of them surpass the cartoons.

Mulan (2020), in my opinion, was watchable, I didn’t turn it off. The cast was good–especially Donnie Yen and Jason Scott Lee–and there were some very cool visuals and action sequences. In terms of plot, it was less of a direct live-action remake than the films I listed above, and it tries to do more of it’s own thing and take inspiration and influence from the original legend (in this way it’s similar to Peter Pan (2003), which I think is a brilliant movie and I absolutely love).

Except.

For me, where I think Mulan (2020) fails is where it is trying to be Mulan (1998).

In parts, Mulan (2020) wants to stand on it’s own as a film and as a story. But in other parts, it makes such direct references to elements of the cartoon that are not present in this movie that it completely took me out of the story. They do this most obviously with the missing musical numbers. The first time it happens it’s fine; they play an instrumental version of “Honor to Us All” over the matchmaker scene and it feels like a fun wink, even though it did make me turn to my brother and say “this would be a great time for a musical number.” But then they just keep doing it.

They quote lines directly from “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You”–I sat there blinking for several seconds when a character completely seriously says “tranquil as the forest, but a fire within”–and they also recreate a lot of the imagery from the scene in the cartoon. There is a randomly placed conversation made up of lines from “A Girl Worth Fighting For,” which again just felt like they SHOULD be breaking out into song in that moment. They start playing an instrumental version of “Reflection” as a musical motif over some of Mulan’s key moments–which only works if you have never heard the words of “Reflection.” As it is, as someone who did a competitive dance to that song as a kid on top of watching the movie many times, I found myself thinking “this is an odd song to be playing over this moment.”

There are some other references that work or don’t work to various degrees. They call one of Mulan’s fellow soldiers “Cricket” as a reference to the actual cricket character in the cartoon, for example, and that’s fine. The phoenix spirit she sees is similar in colour to Mushu from the cartoon (who doesn’t exist in this film), and that’s also fine, although the phoenix itself is a bit random and not fully explained. There’s a few shot remakes that would probably be cool subtle references if all of the other references didn’t exist.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this movie would be a masterpiece if I had never seen Mulan (1998). There are some pacing problems around the middle, there’s a scene involving an avalanche that is very weirdly edited, the way one of the characters dies feels like a cop-out. There’s also been some criticisms about how they handle some aspects of Chinese culture that as a non-Chinese person I do not feel equipped to talk about. There are issues beyond the clunky references. But I think the references welcome more constant comparisons than would have already been made.

As I said before, it’s not terrible. I don’t think I would seek it out to watch again, but I still watched the whole thing and I can think of scenes and elements of it I genuinely liked. I just wish that if the filmmakers wanted to create a film based on the original legend of Mulan while making references to the cartoon most people are familiar with, it was done more gracefully.

10 Comments

  1. I tend to stay away from these “live action” remakes. I see no need for them and honestly, the ones that I have watched don’t compare to the originals. I read a comment that the “live action” lion king was still computer generated and thus defeats the purpose? Haha

    I can still remember seeing “Mulan” in theatres with my cousins one summer. It was amazing! And I still love it! I can’t imagine this remake to take its place, and after reading your review I’d much rather stick to the original and enjoy Mushu for all his silliness – maybe he put dishonour on the new movie 😂😂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah the live action lion king is basically just more realistic animation? it’s very impressive in that sense, don’t get me wrong, but does not add anything to the story IMO.

      If you are looking for silliness, this is definitely not the version of Mulan for you haha, Mushu would definitely be out of place in this movie!!! I don’t think you’re missing out/

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Is it bad that when you say “Mulan”, I have no idea what to picture in my head? Like obviously I’ve heard of it but I have no images to associate with it haha

    This was a good review. Question though: Why does it feel like classic movies aren’t made anymore and there is a reliance on reboots and remakes?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Paul oh my GOD. Here I am going to link this video so you have some idea of what Mulan is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVcLIfSC4OE

      Thanks! And that is a good question. In terms of why classic movies aren’t made anymore, I think it’s easiest to assign movies as classics in hindsight, so we may just be too close to some of the “classic” contemporary films. But there is a big reliance on reboots and remakes and I think partially it’s because of how competitive the market is. With a reboot or remake, there is a built in fanbase, a built in nostalgia, a built in familiarity with the brand. This means at the very least, there’s more likely to be eyes on the project the minute it’s announced. This explains the popularity of adaptations of comic books, video games, and novels as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. THAT’S where that song is from?? I recognize the animation as something I’ve seen before but would’ve never connected the dots.

        That’s a good point about classic contemporary films, as well as reboots. There are probably hundreds of movies that are proposed each year that never get made because someone thinks they won’t be popular enough, whereas a reboot is a sure fire way to automatically have an audience and ensure they make money.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Now you can go watch Mulan! You probably recognize other songs too.

        Yep it’s so true, a lot of people have talked about how hard it is to get stories that are deemed as “risky” off the ground. And streaming both hurts and helps–it provides more options for platforms and the cost for promotion is different, but increases the competition. (clearly I have many feelings about this but when do I not)

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I don’t know about Mulan, but I finished Clueless about any hour ago sooo be on the lookout for that post.

        Yes, you are the resident movie & entertainment expert

        Liked by 1 person

    1. that’s a good question! I think it’ similar messages but presented in different ways? I feel like 2020 Mulan was almost being shamed for pretending to be a man to go to war, under a be true to yourself message, but may just be how it came off to me

      Like

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