Disney’s live-action ‘Mulan’ too familiar for its own good


Disney’s live-action version of “Mulan” is a gorgeous-looking film. That in and of itself is an achievement, but it only serves to underscore how bland our hero’s journey feels emotionally set against the beauty of director Niki Caro’s visuals.

Caro shot the film like a grand epic, but the movie comes off like a promising yet fallen soufflé that doesn’t quite measure up to the grandeur of Disney’s 1998 animated version of the Chinese folklore “The Ballad of Mulan.”

Caro and the gaggle of credited screenwriters through out most of the animated tropes and musical elements of the Disney original and with them a great deal of the charm of the fun of the animated classic. What’s left is more somber and much less fantastic, although some magical elements still abound, particularly the powerful shape-shifting witch Xianniang (Gong Li) who might be a helper or a foe or perhaps both for Mulan (Crystal Liu).

Mulan is the story of an adventurous young woman who disguises herself as a man to replace her elderly and frail father as a soldier fight against the Rouran warriors, led by the malevolent Bori Kahn.

The film is gorgeously shot by cinematographer Mandy Walker, but one can’t help but think the movie would have played much better on a huge movie screen in a theater rather than on a TV, streamed though the Disney + application as Disney and the director intended when it was shot. However, compromises have to be made in this age of the coronavirus.

I liked the movie, but like any other movies I watch at home, my attention invariably is distracted at some point in the film for any number of reasons. I’m able to focus on a film so much better in a theater because I leave my worries, concerns, and distractions — at least most of them — at the door and can focus solely on the movie. I find that nearly impossible to do at home.

While I did not dislike this live-action version, if I were to decide to watch the story again, I would probably go for the animated movie, even though I wouldn’t classify it among my favorite Disney animated movies.

And that’s the rub for me with Disney reinterpreting its animated greats in live-action. Most of Disney’s animated features are so well done, so entertaining, and so classic, it’s hard for a live-action film to compete with the original. The endeavor seems kind of pointless.

Disney’s live-action version of “Mulan” isn’t bad, but it did come off as mediocre watching from home where my attention span is spread much thinner than it is in an actual theater.

If you’ve not paid to see “Mulan” yet, I’d definitely suggest waiting until December when you’ll be able to watch it on Disney + without paying the extra fee.

(PG-13) 2 hrs.
Grade: C

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Classic Corner – 42

Chadwick Boseman in 42

Chadwick Boseman, who died Aug. 28 after a four-year battle with colon cancer, may be best known for his majestic portrayal of Marvel super hero Black Panther. While I enjoyed each and every one of his appearances as the character across four Marvel movies, my favorite film featuring Boseman has him playing the real-life hero Jackie Robinson in the biopic “42.”

For his baseball play alone, Robinson was a worthy subject for a movie, but, of course, Robinson broke the color line in Major League Baseball in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the film is as much about the courage of man not only playing for himself and his teammates but for the rights of his entire race.

Boseman gives a strong but understated performance in the heartening movie that gets many of the facts right despite taking some dramatic license here and there. Harrison Ford has a showier part as Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, the person who pegged Robinson as the man to break the color line in the MLB.

The film does a solid job of showing the degree of courage and patience it took for Robinson to break the color line in baseball with class and aplomb, and while the film does stray from the facts here and there, the movie offers a worthy dramatization of the courage Robinson and his family displayed during his noble undertaking of a task that was truly thankless in the moment.

The AMC Fiesta Square 12 is showing “42” and “Black Panther” this week in honor of Boseman’s death.