Disney returns to form
Handsomely made, finely performed, and family-friendly, Disney finds balance with “Mulan,” a fleet-footed, live-action adaptation of the 1998 animated hit. But this wartime, period-set, epic fantasy isn’t the transcendent classic it might have been.
The well-known neo-fable tells the story of a young Chinese girl, Mulan (Yifei Liu), who masks her gender to fight invaders in place of her aged, disabled father. In this version, she possesses a magical power source—her inner-strength, her “Chi.” Gone is the miniature dragon, Mushu (voiced by Eddie Murphy in the original), who once served as welcomed comic relief.
The addition of a super-powered Mulan is fun but also problematic. In the original, Mulan receives limited assistance from the tiny Mushu, who, in a critical moment, admits that he has no real power. Ultimately, in the animated tale, it’s the young woman, the unmagical, but the extraordinary human being who saves the day. Regardless, the target audience, reared in the age of Marvel, should dig it, and the central message is left relatively intact. More on that later.
Once Mulan leaves home, she lives communally, training with other prospective soldiers, all of them men. Commander Tung (the “Yip Man” Donnie Yen), who knows Mulan’s war hero father, leads the army. This relationship sets up a comical moment when Tung mentions that he’d like to introduce the male appearing Mulan to his daughter. Like its predecessor, it’s a male-dominated society, where matchmakers play a deafening role—the exercise of free-will is challenging.
Read the rest of Jonathan’s review online and in print in the Times-Herald: https://times-herald.com/news/2020/09/mulan-disney-returns-to-form