Any of my friends will tell you a magnitude of scathing remarks about me – my shirts are unsightly and make me look like a fun uncle on his first holiday; that my vile taste in music is the sole reason why Carly Rae Jepsen has produced five studio albums; and that I am – first and foremost – frugal.
That is why it may come as a shock to you that I was one of the schmucks who forked out nearly £20 on the Premier Access of Mulan on Disney+. (I could have bought Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘I Really Like You’ nearly 20 times on iTunes for that price.)
You wouldn’t believe the rate of sweat that cascaded down my face, knowing fully well that, after Disney’s recent live-action remake of my beloved The Lion King, this could go horribly wrong.
It didn’t, fortunately. I mean, it didn’t go horribly right, either… If there is such a thing as ‘horribly right’. What I’m trying to say is that 2020’s Mulan was just okay. If you’re subscribed to Disney+, I’d suggest watching the other gazillion properties on the platform, before spending £19.99 on something that will eventually be free for subscribers.
I mean, have you seen everything on Disney+ yet? Unless you’ve watched Fuzzbucket, Darby O’Gill and the Little People and Million Dollar Duck*, I’d honestly hold off on Mulan.
* They’re all real Disney movies. Fuzzbucket, for your information, looks like a drug-addicted anthropomorphic possum. Enjoy.
Do you remember the first time you saw the original 1998 animated Mulan? I do. I was mesmerised by its gorgeous art-style, howling at the quick-witted quips from the talking animals, and sitting on the edge of my seat for every slapstick pratfall that happened. After all, that’s what a family Disney movie should have – something for every member of the family.
Disney’s live-action adaptation of the same name doesn’t have that. For a film that preaches the life force that is chi, Mulan has very little magic whatsoever.
I know I ranted and screamed and nearly flew to Walt Disney World for the sole purpose of booting Mickey Mouse in the shin after I watched the live-action The Lion King essentially carbon copy its predecessor, but the live-action Mulan was too dissimilar.
The movie opens to a younger version of Mulan, who can scale building with the greatest of ease, flip over pedestrians without breaking a sweat, and can pole vault so high that Renaud Lavillenie would squeal. (Yes, I had to Google ‘famous pole vaulters’.)
This doesn’t stop – Mulan is seemingly one of the most skilled, artful and meticulous soldiers in the army. When she duals against a partner, she does some Matrix style gymnastics and easily defeats him. There’s no underdog story here whatsoever, and that’s all the original was.
Mulan, originally, had to learn how to keep up with the men in her camp, with the help from her guardian, Mushu, and train in order to become the hero that she is. It turns out that she, y’know, already is that in the updated version, so her biggest woes whilst at the training camp are having to shower in private, so the male recruits don’t see her boobies. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Her overwhelming power did, however, lead to some gorgeous action sequences. The cinematography, at times, is inspired for such a standard Disney live-action movie; Mulan somersaults around beams, and the camera tracks her in an impressive circle and follows her as she springs off and continues the action. The fights, while show no blood and gore, are exciting and, at times, brutal.
It’s brutality is in equal measures to its beauty. There’s no denying that Disney can make anything look sexy – I mean, that moment where Beast transforms into a prince? Someone hold me back. Phwoar. And the same weird, creepy sexual magnetism goes for the all round visuals of Mulan. Every location is a different burst of colour and ambience, whether it be the dark reds of Mulan’s hometown, to the white snowy mountains, or the green, smoky geysers. Not only does it look beautiful, but it sounds beautiful.
Unlike many of Disney’s previous live-action films, Mulan didn’t include any of its original songs – which is a crying shame, because I had spent a further £5.99 on a bamboo shoot, ready to dance along to ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You’. It did, however, feature instrumental versions of the songs at the respective moments; all of which were beautifully updated to pay homage to the traditional Chinese setting. It really was a gorgeous film.
Until you get past the fighting and music, and endure the substance. I know I shouldn’t keep banging on about the original film, but in the 1998 Mulan, the titular character struggles to impress her captain, Li Shang, and after gaining his trust, the pair fall in love. Is it really a Disney movie if there isn’t a happily ever after? Apparently, according to this iteration. Chen Honghui, who is based on Li Shang, is seemingly Mulan’s love interest, but at no point during this entire film is that mad apparent – I think I saw these two characters have a total of, like, two totally platonic discourses.
I’ve had lengthier conversations with my fan, when I shout “hellooooo” into it’s spinning blades, in the attempt to sound like an alien.
I’ll issue a spoiler alert for anyone who’s not adhering to my advice, and is willingly spending £20 on Disney+, but it’s not until the very end that even a glimpse of romance happens between the two – Chen Honghui calls Mulan back, and asks her to hold his hand; she sort of puts her hand in his, and then immediately walks away. That’s it. That’s the big ol’ romantic crescendo. Don’t get me wrong – this female character doesn’t need a strong, powerful male to make her stronger; she was already a bad-ass warrior, but… What was the point in establishing a relationship? I didn’t want rompy-pompy – I could spend £20 in other places to see that – but if you’re going to pretend they’re in love, don’t dick tease us as well as poor ol’ Chen.
In all honesty, there were very few characters I actually cared about. Most of which were just nameless entities to me; Mulan’s band of five or six friends barely had a personality between them, and when they appeared to have died – which, by the way, they hadn’t – I honestly couldn’t care. It would have the same effect if you told me my neighbour had just bought a new lampshade. I – I honestly couldn’t give a fuck. (I hope you’re reading this, Jill at number 49 – I DON’T CARE HOW MANY TIMES YOU GO TO IKEA THIS MONTH!)
Other characters just didn’t really work. Director Niki Caro opted for a tonally more realistic Mulan, which meant the omission of Mushu, and was instead replaced by a voiceless phoenix, which acted as Mulan’s guardian – it would give her courage when she felt alone; and guide her when she was lost. But it didn’t need to be a phoenix, did it? It could have been one of those mangly pigeons you see outside Leicester Square; the ones with one leg and four beaks.
Having praised Mulan for its gorgeous visuals, I was waiting with baited breath to see this phoenix burst into a display of red and orange flames, only to be reborn, and, well… It just didn’t happen. I watched, essentially, a feather kite for an hour or so. There were even perfect times for the phoenix to do so; let me pitch this at just try to tell me it wouldn’t have worked.
During one scene, Xian Lang, a powerful witch, attempts to kill Mulan by launching a blade directly into her chest. The witch then leaves, believing Mulan has died. At this point, Mulan’s guardian, the phoenix, would whimper and fall to its death. However, in the film, Mulan was saved by the leather armour she used to conceal her feminine figure; it’s at this point, she decides to accept her real self, and – you guessed it – become reborn as the iconic, female warrior that she was born to be. Here, the phoenix would rise up in an inferno, and lead Mulan back into battle. That didn’t happen. Instead, Mulan just shook it off. So… That happened. (I didn’t even charge you £20 for that scene.)
Mulan isn’t a bad film; and given that coronavirus figures are now rapidly increasing, you could do with all of the films you possibly can, as you lock yourself inside until the year 2084. But it is just okay in comparison to the original which had warmth, humour and magic – all of which 2020’s Mulan was lacking.