Niki Caro’s Mulan is the latest of Disney’s live-action film adaptations. Those films have been generally well-received among critics. Mulan also falls within that territory. It currently holds a certified fresh rating among critics on Rotten Tomatoes. While the film is entertaining, it feels semi-formed. On the one hand, the film offers a semi-realistic take on an ancient Chinese legend but falls short of true realism. On the other, the film contains very few elements of Disney magic. Ultimately, Mulan is a film with an identity crisis.
A Real pain
While Mulan is not Disney’s first live-action film adaptation, it seems to be the most realistic to a fault. Compared to the other adaptations, Mulan has more dark and gritty elements. For one, the nomadic villains of the film are merciless. The imagery associated with them is menacing, and they quickly annihilate anyone in their path. While those elements are intriguing for adults, they do not reach far enough for a layered, gritty story. By the end of the film, you feel a bit cheated. The story opens up the possibility for an epic historical-fiction but doesn’t reach those heights.
Disney Gone Missing
This live-action adaptation of the Mulan story does contain some fantastical elements. For one, the film features a powerful shapeshifting witch and a mystical phoenix guardian. There is also an element of Chi that is touched upon but vaguely applied to the characters. Aside from those features, the film lacks classic elements of Disney magic. The animated film featured the beloved dragon character Mushu that served as Mulan’s guardian. More importantly, Mushu brought fun and humor, which is noticeably missing in the live-action version. While the film is not without magic, it lacks the core Disney DNA that appeals to younger audiences.
Ultimately, Mulan is stuck in a middle-ground. It contains elements that can appeal to children and adults. That identity crisis hinders it from being an excellent film for either.