Alana George, Campus Carrier copy editor
For the past few years, Disney has been releasing live-action remakes of their classic films, including “Cinderella,” “The Lion King,” “The Jungle Book,” “Aladdin” and more. I remember being skeptical going to see “Cinderella” when it was released in 2015, as I was unsure how the film would be any different or have more to offer than the original. But, as always, I was wrong to doubt Disney magic. Lilly James was the perfect picture of a courageous and kind princess, and I was excited for every live-action remake that Disney made from that point on. “Mulan” was no exception, and I was very annoyed when the theater release kept being pushed back due to the pandemic. Thankfully, one of my friend’s parents paid the $29.99 to get early access to the film on Disney+, and we could finally sit down and watch it together, with Chinese food of course.
First of all, the setting of this movie is absolutely stunning. Many different landscapes are showcased, including mountains, meadows, deserts and lakes, and I was shocked by the beauty. Some of the scenes were filmed in the Xinjiang region of China, but most of the movie was filmed in New Zealand, so the natural vistas are unsurprising. The costume and set design, as well, are some of the most colorful I have seen in a long time. The colors of the live-action remakes, I think, is where their beauty is found; I always find the cartoon colors look flatter after watching the live-action version. Disney’s team brought Mulan’s home village, the Imperial City and the soldier training camps to life with incredible detail, down to the costumes of each extra, and those details are what really make the movie special.
The plot of “Mulan,” like all the live-action remakes, is very close to the original cartoon. However, there are some noticeable differences, in that some characters are missing. In this version, the writers gave Mulan a younger sister, who is a foil to her in many ways, most notably in that she wants to be a proper Chinese bride and impress the matchmaker. They also introduced a new ally for the villain, Böri Khan (but that would be major spoilers). But the writers also made a critical character decision: Mushu is nowhere to be found. I believe they made this choice for the sake of cultural accuracy; it would not have made sense with the style of the film, plus, it would be difficult to CGI-render a Mushu-sized dragon (or convince Eddie Murphy to wear a low-budget dragon costume like the Internet wanted). But Mulan is not left without a guardian. Instead of a great stone dragon like in the cartoon, her family’s altar symbol is a phoenix, and this phoenix comes to Mulan’s aid when she is at her lowest points throughout the film. It is a beautiful symbol of being reborn from destruction, a theme prevalent throughout the whole movie.
Another thing I loved about the film is the deeper dive into Mulan’s childhood. I always wondered as a child what my favorite princesses were like as children, and viewers get a glimpse of that in “Mulan.” Crystal Rao plays young Mulan as she gets up to all sorts of antics, while harnessing her chi at a very young age. This perspective also shows how close Mulan is to her father. As a daddy’s girl myself, I loved watching the bond grow between Mulan and her father, Hua Zhou, and the scene in the end where they finally reunite will not leave a dry eye in the room.
“Mulan” really did exceed all my expectations, even though my expectations were already very high due to Disney’s history of live-action films. It is a beautiful movie, with themes that resonate with any viewer and humor for the whole family. If you are like me and do not want to pay the $29.99 fee to watch Mulan now, it will be available to all Disney+ subscribers on Dec. 4, just after us Berry students finish our finals. To me, Disney’s reasoning behind this high of a fee is mysterious as the dark side of the moon. But, if you have been anticipating this movie’s release for as long as I have, and are even more excited for it than I was, then I do think it is worth the investment. You will feel incredibly empowered after watching Mulan overcome adversity; if she can lead the Chinese army to victory almost single-handedly, then you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. Just maybe don’t run off and join the army without telling anyone.