This image released by Disney shows Yifei Liu in the title role of “Mulan.” (Jasin Boland/Disney via AP)

This image released by Disney shows Yifei Liu in the title role of “Mulan.” (Jasin Boland/Disney via AP)

REVIEW: Live-action ‘Mulan’ is gorgeous but short on magic

There is more good than bad in ‘Mulan,’ says one reviewer

Out of all of Disney’s animated films, “ Mulan ” was the one that made the most sense as a live-action remake. Not that there haven’t been good and charming live-action remakes over the past decade — Kenneth Branagh’s “Cinderella” being at the top of the pack — but with most of them no matter how expensive or carefully executed or reverent to the source material, I usually walk out wishing I’d just watched the animated version instead.

Part of that might be age. I was in the generation who got to experience Disney’s animated renaissance in real time in the theatres — unaware of course that it was a renaissance, but simply that the films I got to see in the theatre and then on home video were something special. Perhaps it didn’t crystalize just how special they were and are until the live-action remakes became a regular part of the release calendar. Many just weren’t as enchanting or effective as their predecessors. That is mostly a compliment to the gold standard that is the animation. It would be shocking for a live-action version to somehow be better or even equal. Just look at the animated Hakuna Matata next to the “real” one. There is a reason most of these stories were animated in the first place.

“Mulan” was different, though. The animated tale is wonderful and full of fantastic songs, but it’s a war epic. The story, about a young Chinese woman who steps in to serve the army in her aging and ailing father’s place, is naturally and fundamentally suited for the format.

And make no mistake, director Niki Caro’s “Mulan” is without a doubt one of the best of the remakes. It is stunning to look at from beginning to end. The crisp landscapes (shot by cinematographer Mandy Walker), the brightly colored and divinely intricate costumes (from Bina Daigeler), the elaborate fight sequences and the actors faces — especially Liu Yifei, who plays Mulan — are so beautiful that it will take your breath away. It’s abundantly evident that Caro (“Whale Rider”) had a grand and sweeping vision for “Mulan” and for the most part she pulls it off.

“Mulan” falters on the story level, however, feeling both rushed, overlong and oddly light on character development. We barely even get to know Mulan. She’s introduced as a child, wild and carefree running through her village. But she’s not just free-spirited in this version: She actually has magical powers that make her a natural acrobat and, later, warrior. The film cuts abruptly from this revelation to our heroine, who is now older and messing up in front of the matchmaker. It’s still a charming scene, even without Eddie Murphy’s Mushu.

But there’s the problem: Why am I even thinking about Eddie Murphy? Because “Mulan” doesn’t ever let you forget that it is in conversation with the animated film, devoted to hitting the familiar beats of its predecessor instead of telling its own story. Every time you hear the notes from “Reflection,” which is only sung in the credits, you are torn out of Caro’s sumptuous spectacle and once again thinking about the 1998 version and its songs.

“Mulan” has so much going for it, including a roster of amazing Chinese and Chinese-American actors including Jet Li, as the Emperor, Tzi Ma, as Mulan’s father, Rosalind Chao as Li, Donnie Yen as Commander Tung and Jason Scott Lee as the big bad villain Bori Khan. It also decides to introduce a female witch villain played by Li Gong, which doesn’t quite work and distracts from Mulan’s own journey.

There is more good than bad in “Mulan,” and we should be so lucky to get a gorgeous and inspiring war epic that is suitable for children to watch. “Mulan” might even inspire some kids to dip their toes into all that Asian cinema has to offer, which would be the best possible outcome. But something has to give in this blind fealty to the animated films, because it’s getting in the way of greatness.

“Mulan,” a Disney+ release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of violence.” Running time: 115 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

Lindsey Bahr, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Disney

Just Posted

Song Sparrow Hall producer and sound engineer Craig Newnes with Darrin Herting from Jimmy Two Shoes & the Lost Soles prepare to record for The Wharf Sessions. (Kate Fagervik photo)
Wednesday on the Wharf makes 2021 debut as digital offering

Variety of musicians and musical styles recorded in The Wharf Sessions

Two people were killed in an April 6 collision on Highway 1 east of Salmon Arm. (RCMP Image)
RCMP correct cause of fatal April 6 collision on Highway 1 near Sicamous

Crash resulted in the deaths of both drivers involved

Completion of the Solsqua-Sicamous Bridge isn’t expected until spring 2022. (District of Sicamous photo)
Sicamous bridge completion pushed to spring 2022

Overnight crossing delays expected at Solsqua-Sicamous Bridge, May 18-21

A prowling coyote proved no match for a stray black cat who chased it out of a Port Moody parking lot Friday, May 14. (Twitter/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Little but fierce: Cat spotted chasing off coyote by Port Moody police

The black cat is seen jumping out from under a parked car and running the wild animal out of a vacant lot

Announced Tuesday, May 18 by Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, the province added gyms, dance and fitness studios to its list of places where face coverings are mandatory (AP/Steven Senne)
Masks now required at all times inside B.C. gyms, including during workouts

The province added gyms, dance and fitness studios to its list of places where face coverings are mandatory Tuesday

The Vernon School District has cancelled spring break trips in following with the province's health recommendations amide COVID-19. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Vernon school trustee candidates face off in forum

Voters in Vernon, BX and Silver Star can join May 18 virtual meeting

Reinhard “Bud” Loewen of Abbotsford has now been charged with 21 counts of sexual assault related to his massage business. (Facebook photo)
Former Abbotsford masseur now faces 21 counts of sexual assault

Bud Loewen of Bud’s Massage Therapy initally faced three charges

Collecting the rookie cards of current and former Indigenous. (Instagram)
Kelowna collector to distribute hockey cards to Indigenous youth players

Naim Cardinal is a member of Tallcree First Nation in Alberta

Over the years, police have worked with sketch artists to draw what the boys could have looked like at the times of their deaths. (Vancouver Police Department)
DNA breakthrough expected in cold case involving murdered Vancouver boys, 7 and 8

Forensic analysts are working to identify relatives of the children, whose bodies were found in Stanley Park in 1953

Livestock competitions have been part of the Pacific National Exhibiton for more than a century. (Maple Ridge News files)
B.C. provides $50 million to keep major tourist attractions going

Tour bus companies also eligible for latest COVID-19 aid

The bodies of Carlo and Erick Fryer were discovered by a local couple walking on a remote forest road in Naramata on May 10. (Contributed)
Police offer no updates into two brothers found dead in Penticton last week

The bodies of Carlo and Erick Fryer were discovered by a couple walking in Naramata on May 10

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran addresses media from the front steps of council chambers on March 23, 2020. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
‘Playing with fire’: Kelowna Mayor urges caution, vaccination after busy weekend downtown

Mayor Colin Basran said he felt there were a lot of people from out of town in the city over the weekend

Most Read