Pretty visuals can’t save this dull remake from a weak script, awkward performances, and a noticeable lack of energy.
A young woman, Mulan, takes the place of her father in the Imperial Army of China by disguising herself as a man.
It’s fair to say I’ve had a complicated relationship with the Disney live-action remakes. From those that change far too much (‘Alice in Wonderland,’ ‘Maleficent’) to the ones that don’t change enough (‘The Lion King,’ ‘Beauty and the Beast’), I haven’t been fully satisfied with one yet. From last year, although a pretty mediocre movie from a filmmaking standpoint, Aladdin was still the closest one to balance its inspiration and original ideas into one cohesive story (and was, at least, slightly charming thanks to the presence of Will Smith). Unfortunately for Mulan, it continues the trend of disappointments.
‘Mulan’ has a beautiful story behind it. From the beautiful Chinese folklore to the animated classic, there’s much to take from both versions to come up with enough quality to enchant audiences. Despite this, the screenwriters only manage to take out what worked best from the animated film and created an utterly dull snooze fest whose only saving features are its visuals. The musical numbers are notably absent, which shouldn’t be a big problem unless you account for the complete lack of energy. Not an ounce of charm or liveliness is present here. Instead, we’re left with a film that has been stripped from all its exciting and funny supporting characters that focuses strictly on Liu Yifei’s severely disappointing Mulan.
Liu Yifei, despite her clear great intentions, is wasted in an otherwise uninteresting script that does her no favors. Mulan, in this adaptation, is stiff, wooden and has no charisma. Contrast it with the incredible animated portrayal, and you’re left wondering how they would miss such an obvious mistake. As for the rest of the cast, Tzi Ma is perhaps the best of the bunch, delivering what is probably the only good change, making Mulan’s father a much more realized character than before. Donnie Yen is acceptable in a minimal role, and Jet Li, for some reason, is notably dubbed for the entire time he appears in the film, which makes it a mostly distracting appearance.
I can’t help but feel bad for Niki Caro, who I suspect has been given a script and a set of producers that wouldn’t let her do much with her creative voice. I do have to commend her, though, for the incredible visuals throughout the movie, making it at least a memorable visual experience and one that I assume would have looked even better in a movie theater (except for some very noticeably awkward CGI).
In the end, 2020’s Mulan lacks any of the dazzling charm so prevalent in its past adaptation, instead relying on a weak and uneven script and an unimpressive lead to pull it through ahead, leaving the final product with much to be desired. Too bad, considering its tremendous potential.