Mulan is one of those that sticks with you long after you've watched it. If your family is like mine, you trade quotes at random times (usually from Mushu), sing the songs together, and recount the funniest parts over and over. It's one we've loved and watched many times since it's release onto VHS. So, it was with great excitement that my family looked forward to the release of a live-action Mulan. Understandably, my kids were skeptical about this one being as good or better than the original but we decided to watch it anyway.
Shortly after the movie became available word got out online that the main actress and at least one actor had some troublesome political views. To be completely honest, in a good year I might not know what's going on in other countries, especially on other continents, that is causing unrest among their citizens. Everyone knows this has not been a good year, however, my son explained some of it to me so I wasn't completely unaware when we chose to rent the movie. My son decided to stay in his room while the rest of us watched the movie.
It started out well. I liked seeing a glimpse of Mulan as a child that wasn't given in the original. It was odd seeing her have a sister instead of her wise and amusing grandmother, who had seemed to be the only one to cut her a little slack. But then the plot twisted into something far different from the cartoon. This wasn't a smart only child who was trying to make her father proud of her because of her love for him. This Mulan has inner power that she must keep secret because she's female living in a male-dominated world. Her parents are exasperated by her. Her father offended rather than the loving animated character who, while full of pride, still loves his daughter deeply enough to look past her flaws. This isn't necessarily a Mulan little girls could or would look up to when what they see in the mirror isn't who they hope to be.
The movie follows the events of the original for the most part, but then a different villain is thrust upon us. We meet a witch who is very powerful, but for some reason acts as a minion for the true bad guy, Böri Khan. Why? The entire characterization of Xianniang makes no sense whatsoever. She is the one sent in first to clear the way for Böri Khan and his elite group of baddies. He talks down to her and basically treats her like shit, but she follows him anyway. Why? What hold does he have on her, a magical witch who can turn into a bird and fly away at any time? What makes even less sense is the ending when she sacrifices herself to save Mulan based on little more than one meeting where she admits they have a lot in common (which Mulan disagrees with BTW). Xianniang was a very unsatisfactory addition to the movie. Without fleshing out her character, she shouldn't have been added at all.
Then there's the Big Reveal. In the cartoon, Mulan is injured saving Li Shang, a character that sadly didn't make the cut into the live-action version. Now, she fights the witch, loses, then I guess has an epiphany? The witch basically dares her to reveal herself so she strips off (and throws away!) her father's armor (probably a family heirloom BTW) and rides back into battle sans armor and with her hair down. This is the part that doesn't make a lot of sense to my American mind. Her hair had been up, but the guys still had to know it was long, right? I mean, I can fit a lot of hair into a bun, but her bun wasn't exactly small and discreet. Anyway, she rides in and saves the day. They appreciate it but immediately recognize she is a woman and must be banished. This is the part of the movie I liked the least (because I didn't really hate any of it). It makes no sense to throw away her dad's armor before heading into a battle. It makes no sense to reveal herself at that point in time. The animated version played this out much better.
I'm not going to go into the ending too much other than to say I understand now why Jet Li didn't want to be in the movie. Apparently his daughter talked him into it, but really, they could've had a carboard cutout play the emperor for all the life they gave him in this movie.
Overall, it wasn't the worst remake I've ever seen. It wasn't the worst movie by a long shot. But I did miss the comedy and the music of the animated version. I do prefer that movies about other cultures stick closely to the truth of those cultures though, so I'm going on the advice of others to look for the 2009 version of Mulan, which some believe more closely follows the original poem.