In the summer of 1999, your writer here, aged 10, watched Mulan on VHS every single day. It's a story that resonates with many — Mulan seems to be one of those Disney films that is simply beloved by all, like The Lion King or Aladdin (and unlike Dumbo or Sleeping Beauty, which inspire more divided feelings).
So when Mulan was announced as the next film up for the live-action treatment, to say people were nervous was an understatement. Now it's 2020, and after a series of delays and setbacks and the disappointing news that Mulan would head straight to Disney+, bypassing cinemas all together, we have finally seen it.
And we can say unequivocally that Mulan is not only the best Disney remake yet but perhaps better than the original. A bold statement, but one we stand by.
What makes Mulan so special is, as was promised, the way it hews closer to the original Ballad of Mulan than the Disney original did, and the themes it chooses to explore in a more obvious way. There is no room for manoeuvring: Mulan is a feminist story both subtly and overtly.
There is much praise to be heaped upon Liu Yifei as the titular hero, and the rest of the supporting cast is dedicated and powerful, too. Yifei in particular, though, manages to carry the weight on her shoulders without the viewer feeling the strain.
By its very source material, Mulan is a story that honours women and their strengths, but the filmmakers didn't shy away from the gender-based double-standard that still exists today. It is a Disney movie, so the dialogue is perhaps less nuanced than some might like, but the flipside of that is it is so unambiguous that it feels like a rallying cry.
Of course, the other-other flipside is that nuanced cultural tenets, like 'honour', are flattened and become rote touchstones (a symptom of the Western gaze). Though Mulan does try to touch on what the English word 'honour' means as it relates to the values of Chinese culture.
The most interesting relationship isn't between Mulan and any of the men from whom she's hiding her secret (though her relationship with her father is beautiful), but rather from the one person who knows her truth: the witch Xian Lang (played with crackling intensity by Gong Li). These two women, opposite sides of the same coin, reflect the absurd societal expectations of women and what happens to women who buck them.
But it is also a Disney movie, so the elements of wonder and mystery, of whimsy and love are still there. And the sense of surrealism that animation offers somehow manages to make its way into Mulan without feeling hamfisted, or like a full-on fantasy film.
Mulan feels very realistic, because she is real. She is the life that so many people lead when they can't be who they really are, when they have to hide away their true power and personality. As Mulan soars, so does the viewer.
We would be remiss if we didn't say that the only thing wrong with Mulan is that it doesn't get the cinematic debut it deserves. The spectacular epicness of the film and its action is hampered on a small screen.
Choosing Mulan as the canary in the direct-to-streaming coal mine was the biggest disservice Disney could have done to the film, its cast, and its potential audience. So if you're on the fence about shelling out the extra cash, we say do it, and watch it every day for two months, because it is so worth it.
Mulan will premiere exclusively to Disney+ subscribers in selected countries on Friday, September 4. Premier Access to the movie is priced at £19.99 in the UK and $29.99 in the US.
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