Film review: Mulan is a soulful, live-action remake, but loses original’s fun

While a marvel to watch and a wondrous visual affair this remake misses the sense of humour of the original animated film

Disney has once again revived a classic animated film from their canon to produce a remake, but unlike last year’s Lion King, this live-action adaptation is anything but shot-for-shot.

The new Mulan is emotionally intelligent, interesting and is filled with rich set pieces and beautiful sequences. It’s a marvel to watch and a wondrous visual affair.

At its heart, Mulan is the story of a woman trying to break the confines her Chinese culture puts on her gender. She secretly goes into the army to spare her aged father’s conscription, who, as a man with only daughters, is chosen to fight.

She dashes into the night with a horse and her father’s sword, trying to protect her family. But it is considered dishonourable as a woman to fight, and she risks both death and shame being brought upon her family if exposed.

Missing, though, in this live-action tilt is the sense of humour brought to the original. Maybe it’s because Hollywood is now practicing sensitivity to cultural appropriation, which is a good thing, but gone is Eddie Murphy’s dragon Mishu. Not just Murphy, but the entire dragon, is missing from this affair.

There’s not a single song or a single bit of levity, marking a stark difference. If you went back and watched the original Mulan after this one, you’d hardly recognize it. Left here are only shadows.

That is partially a fantastic thing, with a cast of wonderful Asian actors, including a star-making performance from Yifei Liu as Mulan plus Donnie Yen, Jet Li, Jason Scott Li, Li Gong and Rosalind Chao.

Everyone plays their part in this great ensemble, and the darker tone suits this remake. Director Niki Caro, known for Whale Rider and North Country, has made a very different film than the original, and that’s okay.

But I can’t say I didn’t yearn for a little bit of comic relief, even if it was in the form of a new character. Mulan does a whole lot right, but it loses the best parts of its source material, which is a slightly dishonourable feat.

Mulan is currently streaming on Disney+ Premier Access and will be available for regular Disney+ subscribers on December 4.

Jordan Parker is a PR professional and journalist in Halifax, and these reviews appear first on his film blog Parker & the Picture Shows.