Mulan holds up among Disney’s reboots, but only just
In recent years, Disney has been rummaging through its wildly popular back catalogue of '90s-era animated blockbusters in search of projects to remake as live-action blockbusters.
The initiative had proven wildly successful with audiences so far, with reboots of Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and the CGI-assisted The Lion King all raking in over a billion bucks each at the global box-office.
Now it is the turn of the studio's 1998 hit Mulan for a reimagining into a real-world environment, and an estimated $275 million has been spent to make the whole thing zing on the big screen.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has meant Mulan won't be experienced as the cinema spectacle filmmakers envisioned. Instead, it is now being piped through to homes via Disney's streaming platform, Disney+, where members will pay a premium surcharge to view the movie.
So does the new Mulan cut it as an entertainment experience now that it has been forced to play in loungerooms instead of multiplexes?
Yes, but often only just.
The basic premise remains the same as it was in 1998, and in turn sticks to how the folk legend of Mulan has been passed down through Chinese culture for many centuries.
For those unfamiliar with the tale: Mulan (played stoically, though convincingly by Liu Yifei) is a young woman who goes undercover as a man fighting for the fabled Imperial Army.
The Emperor (Jet Li) has decreed that each family must supply one male to the combat ranks to stave off the threat of a mysterious nomadic tribe advancing across the country. Mulan secretly signs up to the cause for the sake of her elderly father (Tzi Ma), who is in no shape for the battlefield.
As in the animated version, Mulan's acrobatic flair and steely determination are very much to the fore. However, this is where all similarities end (yep, that means there won't be a talking dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy, and there isn't a single corny musical interlude, either).
The filmmakers use the extra storytelling space to put Mulan on a collision course with two formidable villains: Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee), the tribal war lord who wants the Emperor dead; and Xian Lang (Gong Li), a shapeshifting warrior witch who may share more in common with Mulan than just their gender.
Those with fond memories of the original Mulan could be forgiven for wondering where all the fun has gone. This version takes itself very seriously for an all-ages film, and veers dangerously close to boring if there is too long a gap between action sequences. Nevertheless, when the movie finds its groove and revels in the lush visuals and stirring heroics so widely associated with Mulan, all misgivings subside.
Mulan is now streaming on Disney+. A premium surcharge of $34.95 applies.
Director: Niki Caro (Whale Rider)
Starring: Liu Yifei, Gong Li, Jet Li, Jason Scott Lee.
SLIM & I (PG)
In the minds of many, a documentary chronicling the life and times of the late Australian country-and-western icon Slim Dusty probably shapes as a well-meaning, but ultimately dull experience. For anyone who doesn't dig country music, the default setting for Slim & I will be downgraded to a "steer well clear".
Well, those folks will be making a mistake giving this fine film a wide berth, as there's much, much more to it than first meets the eye.
The principal reason why is the belated and thoroughly deserving recognition for someone who didn't just make a star out of Slim Dusty, but made a man of him too. That someone is Joy McKean. This remarkable woman was not just the wife of the knockabout fella synonymous with hits such as Pub With No Beer and Duncan.
McKean was also Slim's manager, mentor, muse and most vital collaborator on every single aspect of a long, unprecedented and rewarding career in the spotlight.
Though a highly talented performer and songwriter herself, Joy selflessly saved her best for her husband's pursuit of a lifelong dream. As the documentary shows repeatedly, these were not acts of obligation, but acts of love.
An endearing and straight-shooting interviewee, Joy is joined by family, friends and a Who's Who of Australian music to give the singular life she shared with Slim Dusty the rich and definitive context it warrants.
Slim & I is now showing in selected cinemas (excluding Victoria).
Slim & I (PG)
Director: Kriv Stenders (Brock: Over the Top)
Starring: Joy McKean, Missy Higgins, Troy Cassar-Daley, Paul Kelly, Keith Urban.
Originally published as Mulan holds up among Disney's reboots, but only just