Back in September when Disney dropped their long anticipated live action Mulan on their streaming platform for a pay upfront price of $30 people were upset at the steep price of admission to this exclusive club. They didn’t care if the film was good, bad or somewhere in between. The cost was too great. However, considering I live currently in a house of 5 adults and an almost 2 year old, $30 or the £20 -25 range it was here in the UK seemed much more palatable. It came in at just $5 a person after all. Turns out though, I was the only one that wanted to see it. Hence I waited and to some extent I’m upset i did because director Niki Caro’s interpretation of Mulan is a vibrant splash of colour that comes at you from every angle. Sure it has some distinctly Disney flourishes and some callbacks that felt a tad too hamfisted for a film with a serious tone but it seems the mouse house has hit its stride when it comes to live-action remakes with this one.
While not a shot for shot adaptation, in fact plenty is different in terms of story and style, the film still follows Mulan (Yifei Liu) as she heads off to war, pretending to be a man to protect her ailing father (A wonderfully reserved Tzi Ma) when one male member of every household is conscripted to fight for the Emperor (Jet Li). While many will point to Caro’s tale of empowerment here, Mulan is mostly a story of family as it spends long stretches of time setting up Mulan’s warring devotions between two different families and the oftentimes conflicting personalities within. Be it her understandable conflict with her mother or how she meshes with her new unit while keeping up her lie, Mulan is a quiet but touching family story masked by a Crouching Tiger-lite war film. In fact it is in the action sequences that Mulan feels disconnected from its tale, not in the outlandish flipping or mystical dancing but in how it seems unrelated to the story at hand. Each sequence seems superfluous to a story entirely devoted to this escalating conflict. The fighting in a war film seems strangely unnecessary and while that might be because the rest of the tale is just so bright and enjoyable but its also a troublesome notion to shake loose. Caro has developed a film dripping in positivity and its a joy to watch, its just a shame about all that pesky combat.