Review: Mulan (2020)

Director: Niki Caro
Screenwriters: Rick Jaffa, Lauren Hynek, Elizabeth Martin, Amanda Silver
Starring: Yifei Lu, Donnie Yen, Jet Li, Tzi Ma, Jason Scott Lee
Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Sci-fi/Fantasy
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence
Release Date: 9/4/20 (Streaming)
Runtime: 1h 55min
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73%
Where to Watch: Disney+
Oscar Nomination(s): Likely–Costume Design, Production Design; Possible–Make-up/Hairstyling, Cinematography, Visual Effects; Long-Shot–Adapted Screenplay

Like other 2020 films, Mulan underwent numerous delays, with its intention to to be released last spring, was then delayed until the fall, at which point it was released only on Disney+ as an approximately $30 rental (in addition to the subscription fee). Then, it was available for all Disney+ subscribers, and I’m glad I didn’t have to pay the extra [rather high] fee to watch it. While it is better than some people are saying, it’s not all that revelatory or mind-blowing. 

The main criticism about 2020’s Mulan that I’ve seen is that it has stripped away what people love about the original animated film: the plentiful humor, talking animal sidekick, and music [songs, not score]. Yes, I did miss those elements a bit, but I feel like that weren’t needed. The Niki Caro-directed Mulan is a reimagining, not a remake. Those who are expressing their hatred for the film are way too extreme, in my opinion. It’s perfectly okay to dislike something, but the fact that some people are so harsh on the film seems unnecessary. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it’s still the one of the better live-action adaptions of Disney animated films that I’ve seen (better than The Lion King, for sure). 

Despite the the fact that this Mulan is not a musical, there’s still a fair amount of humor and magic, especially when it comes to the title character’s powers (which are never really explained). The plot is mostly the same as the original’s, minus the obvious romantic elements — although there is some flirting between Mulan and a handsome soldier, it seems like their relationship is meant to be more platonic than romantic. Mulan needing to prove to others that she’s a fierce warrior who’s an even better fighter than the men is just as exciting and inspiring as it was in the original, perhaps even more so because Chinese actress Yifei Lu is so convincing in the title role. Not only does she excel in the action scenes, but she does well in the more emotional scenes, in the quieter moments that are perhaps more impactful than the busier ones. 

The film is definitely not short on action, and the technical elements are incredibly impressive — from the cinematography to the editing and even the directing. The attention to detail with the costumes and production design is great, too, and even more vivid in this live-action version than in the animated film. The film is sure to pick up at least a couple Oscar nominations in these areas. 

2020’s Mulan is enjoyable enough, but not quite as incredible or as innovative as I might have liked — but that’s necessarily the point. It’s wonderful to see so many actors of Asian descent in a mainstream film, and it’s fun to see actors like Donnie Yen and Tzi Ma in more interesting roles. Overall, it’s one of those films that can be entertaining for everyone (except maybe young children, as the fighting might scare them), but it doesn’t do anything new.