Mulan is Disney’s latest live-action remake, coming in at 120 minutes, compared with the 1998 animation, which ran to 80. So it’s a third longer, and very much seemed it — and half the fun, if that.
No songs. No jokes. No crazy grandma. No Eddie Murphy. Instead, this is a workaday action-adventure that is unlikely to entrance a new generation and won’t cut it for nostalgic adults either. I watched with two twentysomethings who had adored Mulan growing up and were genuinely excited but who wandered from the room after 40 minutes. So I was lonely as well as bored but couldn’t come up with a reason to summon them back. Quick, quick, or you’ll miss one of those dreary battle scenes that seem to go on forever?
Directed by Niki Caro, the story, like the original, is based on the Chinese folk tale about a plucky young woman who disguises herself as a boy to fight the invading Huns, and it delivered Disney’s first progressive heroine rather than one hanging about in the hope that a dishy prince would turn up. The film opens with Mulan as a child in her village chasing chickens across rooftops and generally scandalising everyone with her passion for martial arts and boisterous behaviour. ‘Your chi is strong but chi is for warriors not daughters,’ her father tells her. Her duty, her mother reminds her, is to ‘bring honour through marriage’.
Spool forward in time and Mulan (Liu Yifei) is now a young woman, and the best scene by far is when she botches her meeting with the matchmaker, as at least that has some life to it.