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MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Mulan,’ focused on giving the character more weight

Disney’s live-action re-imagination of the 1998 animated classic pulls off an incredibly moving tale about courage in a journey of self-rediscovery

Niki Caro’s take on the girl warrior in Ancient China brims with compelling fidelity, self-cognizant of its duty to preserve the magic of the classic while trying to introduce new elements intended only to enforce its highly-celebrated anthems: honor, loyalty, courage, among many others.

The result of this effort comes out mostly decent, but its most spectacular achievements arise chiefly from its glorious visuals, which sufficiently compensate the film’s lack of an equally outstanding script.

The Emperor’s men announce the edict that obliges every family to contribute one member to the Imperial army / Walt Disney Pictures

The very attributes of ‘Mulan’ as a character make this immersive retelling a crowd-pleaser by default.

Stories about women trapped in a society founded on cultural systems that confine them in roles far inferior compared to their male counterparts, but bravely find a way to break out, are inherently adored by audiences.

Unlike her contemporaries in Disney, however, ‘Mulan’ isn’t a princess haunted by an evil entity, only to be conveniently rescued by a charming prince. In the end, Mulan is a warrior, but her version of ‘brave isn’t simply enduring the evil deeds of a vile stepmother - for her, she has to engage in a physical war, dress up as a man, and fight in a battle of blood alongside men with equal hunger and determination for victory, and honor.

Mulan takes her father’s place in the imperial army, pretending to be a boy / Walt Disney Pictures

While Caro’s vision is anchored upon loyalty to her source material, her ingenuity still prompts her to abandon several key elements of the original classic. Here, musical numbers are missing, so is the dragon, and a romantic angle between Mulan and another major player in the story.

She instead focuses on giving the character more weight and provides her a better backstory to fuel the character’s motivation in becoming it is destined to be: a warrior. She barely succeeds in this dream, but the spectacle she delivers while making it happen is more than enough to keep us on the edge of our seats.

Mulan defies societal structures that undermine women’s rights to be equal with men / Walt Disney Pictures

The film’s planned March theatrical release was set aside and is now available via Disney’s streaming service, Disney+ (which may not be available in some countries, including the Philippines).

The release comes in the wake of international backlash against its lead actress, Liu Yifei, whose pro-China and police-brutality statements earned the ire of the internet.

Disney will now have to see whether or not the charm of Mulan, as a character, can undermine Yifei’s stained impression.

5 – Excellent
4 – Very Good
3 – Good
2 – Tolerable
1 – Terrible


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