At the beginning of the year, Mulan was set to be one of Disney’s biggest releases. The film, a live-action remake of the 1998 animated movie, was being viewed as a huge deal for the company and a significant title for 2020.
Mulan was due to hit cinema screens during the Spring, and following in the footsteps of Beauty and the Beast (2017), The Lion King (2019), and Aladdin (2019), it was predicted to perform strongly at the box office. The inclusion of an all-Chinese cast was expected to play well to lucrative Chinese audiences, and there was a lot of good feeling surrounding the original movie.
However, before the film could make its debut, Mulan hit a number of obstacles. First and foremost, the movie became surrounded by multiple controversies.
One of these controversies related to the film’s lead star, who made a comment that she supported police brutality in Hong Kong. While another issue arose when it became clear that parts of the movie were shot in the province of Xinjiang – an area of China where internment camps are located.
These were two very big controversies, which caused a lot of negativity around Mulan, and led to calls to boycott the movie ahead of its release. There were also issues surrounding a lack of diversity amongst the production crew, as well as a discussion about the erasure of an LGBTQ character, presumably to avoid any problems with international audiences.
And then COVID-19 struck and that had a major impact on the movie. Days before Mulan was due to arrive on the big screen, the global pandemic caused cinemas worldwide to close en masse, and the film was temporarily shelved.
Having tried to work around the controversies, and having already spent money on a marketing campaign (including red carpet premieres), Disney had a problem on its hands. Should it sit on the movie and wait it out until cinemas re-opened, or should it move the film to Disney+ and use it as a bargaining chip to win over new subscribers?
After some consideration, the company took the decision to take Mulan to Disney+. A number of 2020’s big screen releases were getting shifted to video on demand (VOD), so Disney figured it would follow suit and place this high-profile title on its new subscription platform.
But this is where Disney hit another problem. With a theatrical release, Mulan had the opportunity to make a huge amount of money at the box office; but on Disney+ that clearly wasn’t going to happen.
Keen to recoup its costs, Disney decided to make Mulan available to subscribers, but with a caveat – it would carry an extra charge. The film would arrive on the service in September, but to view it subscribers would need to cough up the princely sum of £19.99.
This decision was not met with universal appeal. While most movies that were taken to VOD in 2020 carried a rental charge, such as Trolls World Tour and Scoob!, they usually came in at around £15.99 or less. These films also didn’t require a subscription service to access them.
Mulan’s price tag of £19.99 was clearly a little higher than every other movie and it also required a Disney+ subscription – a further £5.99. The idea of shelling out £25.98 to rent one movie put some people off (myself included).
Disney also didn’t help itself by announcing that Mulan would be made available to all Disney+ subscribers for free from December. So, to avoid paying £19.99 all you had to do was hang fire for just three months.
Because of Disney’s decision to charge such a high price to watch the movie, I made the decision not to view the film until it was added to Disney+ as part of the standard package. I am all for streaming and VOD, and think home video releases are very convenient, but films need to be properly priced and Mulan wasn’t.
And this brings me neatly up to date, because as of this weekend, Mulan is now available to all Disney+ subscribers, at no extra cost. Mulan arrived today, so if you are a subscriber and you have been looking forward to this movie all year, now is your chance to view it.
Directed by Niki Caro, Mulan stars Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, and Jet Li. The film – based on the legend of Hua Mulan – tells the story of a young woman who disguises herself as a man, in order to become a soldier.
In the movie, Mulan’s father is called upon to fight in a war to protect the Emperor of China. As Mulan knows her father would not survive such a calling, she decides to take his place.
Throughout the movie Mulan must maintain the masquerade that she is a male soldier, to complete her mission. But Mulan knows it is only a matter of time before the truth will come to light, and she knows that if it does, she faces dishonour amongst her peers and more importantly, amongst her family.
If you have previously watched the 1998 version of Mulan, then you will already be familiar with this story. However, this live-action version is not a shot-for-shot remake of the original, so it does differ in places.
The biggest difference between this version and its animated counterpart is that this is not a musical. If you are a huge fan of the tunes that were included in the animated film, I’m sorry to tell you that they have been largely removed from this picture.
The Christina Aguilera song, ‘Reflection’ does appear in the movie, but none of the other songs made the cut. There are some other differences too, including the absence of fan-favourite character, Mushu – a wise-talking dragon, voiced by Eddie Murphy in the original film.
A couple of the action scenes have also been tweaked, and overall, the movie has a more serious tone. But I appreciate that if you are going to remake a movie, then elements can and should be reworked. The important thing is that a remake brings something new to the table.
I am pleased to say, that what Mulan serves up is very satisfying. This is a good reworking of the story, which maintains the heart of the original, is filled with plenty of action, and looks bloomin’ gorgeous.
This is a beautiful picture. It is luscious, vibrant, and stunning, with the cinematography, the sets, and the costume design all standing out.
Animated movies, especially those from Disney, are often praised for their eye-popping visuals. This live-action film deserves similar praise, and is easily one of the best-looking movies of 2020.
The action sequences are also fantastic, with impressive fight choreography, some strong stunt work, and a nice dash of imagination whenever it is needed. In short: It looks really cool.
Of course, as mentioned above there are some changes, and I know the absence of Mushu won’t sit comfortably with die hard fans. This morning, prior to viewing Mulan, I re-watched the original film of which Mushu is a very important character, and I do believe it is a shame he could not be included in this new version.
Some people will also be disappointed about the lack of songs; although this didn’t really bother me. Personally, I don’t feel that Mulan ’98 has the strongest songs – half are good, half are forgettable – so not including them in the updated movie isn’t a great loss.
And what Mulan 2020 jettisons, it sure makes up for in the inclusion of Xianniang – a new character, played by Gong Li. Xianniang is a shape-shifting witch who was not part of the animated film, but slots into this live-action film very nicely, becoming the movie’s stand-out star.
I know that many people will debate whether this film was necessary, and others will claim that it is not as good as the original; but for me it is no better nor no worse. Mulan 2020 feels like a fine companion piece to Mulan ’98, I found much to enjoy, and am more than happy to recommend it.
Will it stand the test of time? That I am unsure of. I think the animated movie will probably remain the default picture out of the two, but I think this film will find its own fans – most likely those who have never watched the original.
Mulan has some baggage, and some of this will dog the movie for quite some time, but based purely on what appears on screen this is solid entertainment. If Disney hadn’t fumbled its release, I could have told you all this months ago, but good things come to those who wait.
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