The Beach House (2020) | SHUDDER
Disney’s track record with these live action versions of their animated classics has been spotty at best. When it was announced that Mulan was next on the assembly line, it was different, for they announced it would not be a musical and that there would be no Mushu. Whether those announcements excited one or not is irrelevant. The takeaway from those announcements is that this wasn’t going to be a carbon copy remake. Which after The Lion King remake that came out last year, is a welcome change of pace. So, I was looking forward to this one more than the others. Coming from someone who really embraces the original Mulan, I was interested in seeing what they could do with the material. They had a real chance of bringing new meaning to the source and perhaps even improve upon it. Did that happen? Well…
This is the aspect of the film that I can say was definitely good. Niki Caro is a damn good director and a good pick by Disney to do this movie. It is shot with the same flare and grace as her other works. She really captures the majestic feel of China. Her action scenes weren’t choppy, and she makes good use of the camera. I’m glad she added her own style to this instead of copying shots from the original movie. She did her damnedest to make this stand out on its own, and I think that is commendable.
The plot is a more condensed and bloated version of the original. I know that doesn’t make much sense at the offset, but follow me for a second. The film seemed interested in some aspects of the original and felt the need to follow the same plot beats as the original. However, you get a real feeling that the writers didn’t much care for some stuff from the original and would just blow past them as quickly as possible. I don’t want to compare too terribly much to the source material, but I felt that in that one we got far more insight into the characters than we did here. I also felt like the story itself made logical progression throughout it. In this one, it felt as if stuff happened purely because it happened in the original. With the changes they do make to have it stand out, they cause the film to make less sense. Mulan makes a choice near the midpoint of the film that left me shaking my head no. The film built up the consequences of what would happen if she made that choice earlier, but they don’t follow through with it simply for convenience reasons. That’s weak sauce. It also never shakes the feeling that you are watching a bullet point movie.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The acting is fine. I can’t lie, I was a little disappointed. Disney got Donnie Yen and Jet Li to be in a movie and they weren’t even the slightest bit memorable. That’s sort of the problem that encapsulates the whole movie. The actors do fine with the material they are given, but they aren’t given much to chew on. I feel as if the only two performances allowed to stand out were Mulan’s dad played by Tzi Ma and the witch villain played by Gong Li. They get the most to work with on a character scale, and they do really good. Liu Yifei, who plays Mulan, was just fine. She really wasn’t allowed to have the personality that the original Mulan had. She really only had one mode and that was to be a badass. Which is okay on paper, but the audience isn’t really allowed to feel or relate to her in any way. She just doesn’t have much character and is sort of bland. In a movie called Mulan, Mulan really shouldn’t be so bland. They give her super powers in this movie too, a terrible choice. Don’t even want to get into it.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
Wait till it’s available for a standard Disney+ price in December
The movie visually looks good. The director and cinematographer were on their A-game. However, the special effects left a lot to be desired. Some effects looked good as they should with Disney paying the bills, but then there are bafflingly bad special effects that took me completely out of it. Early in the movie, Mulan as a child falls off a building and catches herself with a stick and the effect used was so laughably bad, that it made me wonder if this was actually meant to be screened in theaters or if this was all a long con by Disney to put it directly on Disney+. That is one of the first impressions the film gives the audience, and I can’t say they recover from it.
Mulan (2020) | DISNEY+
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
This was the most bitter pill for me to swallow, because I adore the music from the original Mulan. I think the music from that movie is its strongest aspect. I can live with them taking out Mushu, but you take away “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” and I’m not gonna be happy. That being said, I learned to live with it because it meant they were gonna be doing something different with this movie. Sacrifices had to be made for the greater good. However, when the score isn’t playing bits from “Reflection,” teasing me with the fact that this isn’t a musical anymore, it’s so dull. No original bits of score left an impression and that is so frustrating. But I did enjoy Christina Aguilera’s two songs in the end credits. I also thought playing a Mandarin version of “Reflection” was cool.
Mulan has far more ambition to it than some of the other Disney remakes. It wanted to stand on its own and wasn’t just the same movie over again. However, I can’t say I would ever sit through this again. I love that they made changes, but they never replaced Mushu or the music with anything of substance. The movie is a bit of a bore truthfully. There was never a moment or sequence that pulled me in, made me invested, or even entertained me. I feel bad saying that because Niki Caro probably worked herself to death on this one. But Disney is asking for $30 for this and it’s not even remotely worth that. Wait till it’s available for a standard Disney+ price in December. It is worth watching once if you are a fan of the original version just to see how it compares, but it’s not going to stick with you. Honestly, I am far more inclined to listen to those two Christina Aguilera songs again (and believe me, I will) than I ever would be to watch the movie itself again.