If there's one movie that has people's attention right now, it's probably Disney's 'Mulan'. Once destined for a theatrical release as their next big (and potentially unnecessary) live action remake, it is now found on Disney+ for a subscription cost of $8.99/month, "plus" (get it?) an additional cost of $34.99! This isn't so bad for big families who are trying to see, what I refer to now as a "rapid home release" movie and don't have access to the big screen. For one person trying to see it though, that's ridiculous! I'd spend less seeing whatever is out in IMAX 3D right now on a Saturday night!
In the end, I convinced myself to go for it for a variety of reasons. For one, I simply wanted to check it out for myself. But on top of that, I needed a movie to review, and considering the way things have been going with it, this was just a good title to offer my own two cents on. Then on top of that, I convinced myself that had theaters been open and everything was normal, I'd most definitely had spent more that $40 over the past few months. That's only speaking for myself and my situation; I can find a way to justify that cost. Speaking for others, Disney needs to watch themselves, because this is the kind of stuff that makes people download their material instead of giving them money. I wouldn't fight anyone on doing that with this at all.
Taking a look at the film itself, it's more or less what you'd expect it to be, but with the significant difference that Mulan (Yifei Liu) doesn't exactly get a whole lot of development here. She's an adventurous young girl who does her own stunts, and pretty bad ass right from the get-go. This disappoints her parents, however, who believe a woman's place is to honor and serve her husband one day. It definitely plays on the old-fashioned ways of thinking some women in some cultures struggle with even today.
Soon, an imperial outpost is invaded by a band of Rouran warriors, lead by Böri Khan (Jason Scott Lee), with the help of a shape-shifting witch named Xianniang (Li Gong). This leads the Chinese Emperor (Jet Li) to issue a decree, calling on every family to contribute one man to fight against Khan and his warriors. Mulan's elderly father, Hua Zhou (Tzi Ma) having no sons, is forced to pledge himself. Mulan then second guesses her "place", steels her father's sword and armor, and heads out to be the one to represent her family, disguised as a young man. If she's discovered, it could mean death for dishonor, as a woman's place is definitely not on the battlefield according to their logic.
Getting back to the development of Mulan, it's a bit of a problem. The whole thing about the original film was that she was out to prove to herself and others that a woman could do what a man could do, but she still has to struggle through rigorous training, surrounded by testosterone-loaded men. It's a journey we take with her. In this version, Mulan is already about as badass as she can possibly be, and you never really worry about her well-being. This one's more about the equality aspect in that she has the skill, but is not allowed to use it. So I think I get it, but I sincerely find the animated version much better. You could empathize with Mulan as an overall character in the original, where here, you can only really empathize with her as a woman. For some, that's just fine, and I get it. But speaking for myself and as a guy, I can honestly say I got more from the original.
So, what about Mushu? Well, he's not in this, if you were hoping at all to see some version of him. Instead, her parents call on the strength of a phoenix to protect her. I think it's supposed to be something mystical when it shows up on screen, but it's hard to determine. There are so many moments you think it's just there, and for as beautiful as it looks, you can't fully tell if its real, some figment of her imagination, or something only she can see. That brings me to some positive points about the film, however, starting with some of the cinematography. The scenery looks amazing, and the action sequences flow pretty nicely. I will say that there are times the camera tries some unnecessary tricks, but I'd say it's at about 90%.
More positivity about the film involve things like the idea of it being a little more serious. That was actually one of my main draws to the movie in the first place. Quite honestly when I Wiki'd the real Hua Mulan, all of the pieces essential to her story seem to still be there, so it ends up being a question of what struggle you appreciate more; the struggle of a female character who proves to herself and her family that she can fight like, or better than a man, or the struggle of a female warrior who outdoes men on the battlefield but technically isn't allowed to be there. I suppose to bring it down to a comparison of present day struggles, it's "I can be the awesome female player on the all-boys baseball team if only given the chance" vs "I'm a woman really good at what I do, why don't I get paid the same wages as men?" At least that was my perspective. Both are important enough to be the underlying message, but one will appeal to you more than the other, any way you slice it; one half of the pizza is meat-lovers, one half is Hawaiian.
At the end of the day, I personally find the animated version better overall, and that's probably not a surprise to many. I tend to stick to originals over the live-action remakes as it is, with 'Jungle Book' being the only real exception; in that case, I kinda liked the remake a bit more. In any case, this will be streaming on Disney+ soon enough for free, and I highly recommend just waiting. It's nothing particularly special in my eyes, but it might hold its own for others.