A hopeful succession to major blockbusters of its time, Mulan had big shoes to fill long before the pandemic upended the planet. Featuring a culturally conscious cast, decades old Chinese traditions, and a budget few Disney films even today can get away with, the film was put under as much pressure as the titular heroine was to bring honor to her family.
This raincloud of coverage continued when it was revealed that the film was partly shot in Xinjiang, the government of which has detained Uighur Muslims in mass internment camps. Not only was the film shot in the region, but it also thanked all those within Xinjiang for their help and work on the film – a shoutout that only fueled the already boiling controversy surrounding the family reboot.
In 2020, everything from ordering a black coffee to going for a run at dusk is met with controversy.
It’s no surprise, then that Mulan, a film of many diversity “firsts” for a notoriously oppressive media company, saw this treatment. The biggest disappointment is not that Mulan bred controversy, nor is it that the film never saw the light of day in mass theaters across the globe. Instead, its the fact that Mulan, independent of all external factors, is a bad film.
Beginning with an uninspired screenplay, Mulan fails to come close to the level of the original animation. The skeleton premise remains; a young, strong willed Mulan disguises herself as a man to join the Imperial Army in place of her elderly father. It removes, though, aspects of the 1998 film in favor of tactics that aren’t successful.
Taking out the musical element and humorous characters like Mushu in favor of a more epic, realistic tone is only muddled by watered down violence and action so by the numbers it begs viewers to wait patiently for a new scene to make them forget what they’ve had to endure. For a film with such a bloated budget, it’s all the more surprising that the CGI throughout the majority of the film appears outdated, cheap, and at times laughably bad.
The final battle scene, splitting Mulan from her male counterparts in an A/B fight sequence offers little excitement. The soldiers spend too long in a corridor fighting while Mulan jumps around and kicks arrows at her foe until the antagonist is abruptly disposed.
Not only is the action poorly executed, but it’s rigid nature continues in the overserious nature of the ensemble performances. Gone is the wit and humorous undertones of the original, leaving in its wake a collection of stone faced warriors with next to no depth of character.
The most developed character, in fact, is one of the antagonists. Sorceress Xianniang acts as a cautionary tale for Mulan, showing the possibly corrupt future she faces if she makes the wrong turns in pursuit of power and equality among male warriors. Her arc is painfully predictable, but it at the very leasts deepens the stakes by diversifying the dark vs light binary Disney has had trouble progressing from.
Mulan is nothing more than a continuation of the experimental live action reboots Disney has come to produce over the last few years. Like Lion King, it suffers from a lack of commitment to a singular tone, pandering to families with a thinly veiled attempt at being a war epic. Perhaps a hopeful development to come out of its forever pandemic-tainted rollout is an increased tendency for Disney to throw out money grabbers in favor of more artistic adaptations to beloved classics.