As part of Disney’s slate of live-action remakes, Mulan made its way onto Disney Plus last September. What made this remake such a highly anticipated film was due to the fact that the live-action version was deviating from the original source material. Granted, the core premise of the 1998 classic was intact, which was about a young girl who disguises herself as a man to take the place of her father to battle the northern invaders in China. Gone was the talking dragon Mushu and the cricket from the animated feature, along with the musical numbers that accompanied the original film. This realistic approach was surely a bold take that had the potential to be a great film. However, that didn’t end up being the case. While more critics favored the live-action remake, which currently has a solid 74% on rotten tomatoes, audiences haven’t been too keen on the updated version of Mulan. So, why is the 2020 remake a disappointment? The ingredients for a fantastic film were all there; however, Mulan shows us again why its so hard to recapture the magic and charm of the original film. Let’s dive deeper into Mulan.
The dark tone actually backfired on the film. I applaud Disney and director Niki Caro for taking a different approach to the 1998 classic. This could’ve been another lifeless shot for shot live-action remake that enforces the notion that these films are pointless cash cows; however, the darker tone is actually what sets back the 2020 feature. On paper, the idea that a movie that deals with war should have a serious tone. The subject often deals with death or the struggles of surviving such a brutal environment, something that a PG film couldn’t really do. Oddly, the original Mulan somehow managed to tackle this topic pretty well. The key thing is that the film wasn’t exactly about the war itself, but about the empowerment of women and how they can be a valuable asset in times of conflicts. There were definitely grim moments throughout the film, namely when Mulan went through a burned village and discovered the dead imperial soldiers. This scene is handled expertly with seriousness and sensitivity. The big issue with the live-action film is that it doesn’t feel like there’s any life to the feature, evening once the big battles commences towards the end. Say what you will about Mushu and the songs of the original film, but they added a much needed spark to an otherwise grim subject. The film felt lively because of the vibrant colors and characters. The live-action feature looks great, but no one truly stands out here. The remake doesn’t fail because Mushu and the musicals are missing. It fails because it feels like a hollow imitation of the original movie. Gone are vibrant characters that carried the original film.
It often feels as if the personality has been sucked out the live-action counterparts, including Mulan herself. It also doesn’t help that the film is predictable in nearly every way. Despite the contrast of the live-action film and the animation, the key elements of the movie still remain intact. Also, the PG-13 rating may have actually worked against the 2020 feature. At the end of the day, this is a film that takes you in the midst of war, yet it never feels realistic. One of the worst scenes is Mulan deciding to take off her full battle gear to reveal that she’s a woman. Everyone understands what this moment is truly about; however, Mulan looks like an idiot for shedding her battle gear in a war that has torn her country apart. Plus, the fighting feels too neat and pretty. Since we can’t see the brutality that films such as Hacksaw Ridge or 1917 showcase, we as an audience don’t get the sense of dread and horror that makes us connect with the war in general. War movies don’t show the battle sequences just for the violence, it helps audiences understand the nightmares soldiers deal with once they step onto a battlefield. We never get that vibe in the 2020 remake because it feels more like a fancy fight sequence. Oh, it doesn’t help that Mulan was given some type of super power, which undercuts its message a bit. How can girls identify with a character who’s ultimately a supernatural being? The original Mulan was an ordinary girl who worked her ass off to become an elite solider; however, director Niki Caro relied on the lazy chosen one trope that often hinders films these days. In truth, Mulan isn’t a bad film and the risks taken is certainly commented. It’s just a shame that the movie decided to emit the important elements that made the original a classic.Mulan
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