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Mulan (2020) Review

Disney’s Mulan is a live-action adaptation of its animated film (of the same name) which is based on a Chinese folk story (The Ballad of Mulan). The story follows Hua Mulan, a girl born in Imperial China, as she defies not only tradition but also law when she disguises herself as a man to take the place of her injured father in the army. Mulan’s love for her family and dedication to her country would be her source to grow from a simple village girl into a resilient and inspiring fighter. The key aspect that made Mulan one of Disney’s most beloved characters was that her story is one that speaks not only of grit and perseverance in the face of obstacles but also stands as a testament to her strength of self in a patriarchal society that refused to acknowledge it only because of her gender.

With a story twisting around themes as stirring as those, one would think that a grittier live-action version would only enhance the qualities of the original. And while the backdrops, costumes and sets of the movie are beautiful, the new movie disappoints in more ways than one.

To start off, the script is wooden and awkward in almost every scene. While it is excusable that this “grittier” adaptation has less humour and charm than the animated movie, most of the dialogues are repetitive, drawn-out, and downright wooden. The addition of certain characters like Xianning (the witch with magic) seemed unnecessary and gave more plot holes than anything else. The villains had good potential, but their backstories went largely unexplored. This along with a rather stiff dynamic between them contributed to both villains becoming cardboard-cut-out two-dimensional characters when they could have been so much more. The Phoenix was also an eye-rolling addition that reinforced the same metaphorical rising from the ashes concept that has been seen way too many times. It also confuses the tone of the story. If Disney was going to have magic involved in the plot, why not go all the way? The attempt feels very half baked and insincere.

The characterization is also very different from the original and not in a good way. The most integral reason for that is that the Mulan of the live-action has an all-powerful “chi”( Think of the force in star wars). The problem with giving Mulan what are essentially superpowers is that it takes away from her struggle to earn her place alongside others that later commands her peers’ respect as just another person like them. This proves detrimental as we are no longer rooting for her as an underdog carving her name in the stars because now she is already gifted and talented due to an ability she was born with and not earned and is simply hiding it because society would frown upon it. Instead of sending a message that women and men are equal, it simply makes Mulan an exception, and this is the critical mistake. The movie immediately loses heart because of it.

Other than this, the traces of romance in Mulan is forced and awkward. The movie could have done without it. Mulan’s disgrace from leaving the army has no emotional weight despite it being a critical moment for her character. The fight scenes also lack the tension and emotional stakes required. This becomes especially apparent at the climax.

In the end, Mulan’s pandering tone along with a host of other issues with the story makes it arguably one of Disney’s most boring and frustrating remakes. It had great potential but does no justice to its predecessor. The movie is visually stunning but emotionally stunted and its failure to realize its true theme and message is ultimately its downfall.

-By Annapoorna Narayan

You can watch the trailer for Mulan below:

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