On paper Mulan has it all. It was announced by the company with big ears, as the most liberating film of its model. It’s a risky bet when we learn about the success of the animated film in 1998. Did the Disney studios find the balance to be victorious?
Mulan, released in 1998, would mark a generation of bottle-fed Disney princesses. For the first time in its history, Disney features a heroine who attempts to free herself from her status as a girl to marry into a male-dominated environment. 22 years later, the company offers a reinterpretation of the Chinese myth, but this time in real pictures. We had the opportunity to attend the preview last March.
Not surprisingly, we find the main plot of the first film. When the Emperor of China issued a decree that a man from every family should go to war, Mulan had no choice but to put on her father’s armor. He would enter into the skin of the male character, Hua Jun, and be tested at every stage of his apprenticeship. However, after repeating classics, such as Lion King or more recently Beauty and the Tramp, Disney wanted to break free from its base model. A risky bet given the success of the first iteration when it was released. Unfortunately, Disney is still too shy in practice and content to add a few stakes and characters here and there. So we’ll tell you right away, no need to look for Mushu, Locust or even Shang, this adaptation covers a good part of the cast. We found specifically the witch character Xianniang, played by the wonderful Gong Li, who was not in the cartoon. He brings a new plot and new issues that sadly won’t have the right to the treatment that his name deserves.
If the development is efficient enough, the film goes through some length and doesn’t manage to reinvent itself enough to blow us away. Without revealing too much, the issues related to Gong Li’s on-screen presence weren’t exploited enough and the whole ended up sounding like a bland soup we wanted to add some spice to. Worse, the confrontation scenes sometimes border on parody because the dialogue is weak. If the film wants to be more serious, it is faced with an important paradox. : preserving the essence and morals of Disney films for inclusion in more mature feature films. Overall it delivers a film that ends up being filled with good feeling and far from the advertised entertainment. Disney didn’t push the cursor far enough and that’s a shame. The message of women’s emancipation is drowned in a moral message that focuses on a sense of obligation and family. This message is also very often conveyed during the two hours of the film. We want this film to take more risks in revealing its message.
Despite everything, Disney offers fun viewing on screen. The craftsmanship of the costumes is simply amazing, as is often the case at Disney. Sets are not abandoned and allow the film to take on its full dimensions. While directing, Niki Caro makes some great proposals, especially in the action scenes. The choreography is quite effective and the director’s sense of framing largely allows them to be sublimated. Most of this fight scene is allocated to Jason Scott Lee, who gives us a presentation of his talent in millimeter hand to hand combat. He definitely didn’t miss gym class. For the film, Disney recruited mostly Asian cast. So, we found Chinese actress Liu Yifei in the lead role. He brilliantly manages to create his own character and is more than convincing in his incarnation. We’ll also note the impeccable accuracy of Donnie Yen, who reclaimed the role of Commander Tung brilliantly. There is still Yoson An, who provides performance to challenges. We’ll end with Harry Gregson-Williams’ music, which was largely inspired by the cartoon songs for this feature film. If the film doesn’t have a sung sequence, the most attentive will be able to recognize the melody “Comme un homme” , or even “Reflection”.
To find Mulan, it happened on Disney+. Originally slated for theaters, the film will eventually be released on the platform. A choice that can be detrimental to the acceptance of the work, which of course requires a spectacle on the big screen to appreciate the performance as it should.