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Mulan review: "An occasionally dazzling live-action remake"

(Image: © Disney)

Our Verdict

Like the inscription on her daddy’s sword, the new Mulan is loyal, brave and true… but not quite as funny or dramatic as it might have been.

Yanked from the release schedules just hours after having its European premiere in March, Niki Caro’s live-action do-over of Disney’s 1998 animation Mulan had been expected in cinemas this summer only for the Mouse House to opt, on these shores at least, for a PVOD release on Disney Plus.

In some respects, it’s a slight on a film whose sweeping vistas, thunderous battle sequences and CGI spectacle were clearly tailored for the big-screen experience. In others, however, it feels a suitable avenue for a remake that treats its cross-dressing hero(ine) with po-faced reverence and is downright ponderous whenever the arrows, swords and horses aren’t zinging, clanging and charging.

The action’s at its sprightliest when introducing Mulan (Yifei Liu) as a village tomboy who, to quote her exasperated mother, “flits around rooftops chasing chickens”. Yet much of that zest (if not the Crouching Tiger-inspired roof-running) goes missing once Mulan takes her father’s place in the Imperial Army – a deception that not only requires masculine attire but also, on this evidence, a near-total removal of recognisable personality.

‘Hua Jun’, in short, is a bit of a drag, forever fretting about the dishonour exposure will bring to her family and how best to channel her chi, painted here as a kind of off-shoot of the Force, while hiding her true self. Thankfully, the training sequences are engaging and her fellow recruits a likeable enough bunch. The villains too are enticing: Jason Scott Lee plays vengeful invader Böri Khan with lip-smacking relish and Gong Li exudes silky, sensuous menace as shape-shifting sorceress Xianniang.

There’s no Mushu this time around, and Whale Rider director Caro also dispenses with the original’s musical numbers. Yet the pivotal avalanche set-piece is thrillingly reprised, while an Easter egg cameo offers an affectionate grace note. Mulan diverts and occasionally dazzles. But next to some of Disney’s other recent flesh-and-blood adaps, it’s distinctly second-tier.

The Verdict
3

3 out of 5

Mulan review: "An occasionally dazzling live-action remake"

Like the inscription on her daddy’s sword, the new Mulan is loyal, brave and true… but not quite as funny or dramatic as it might have been.

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