Mulan (2020)

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Mulan (2020) Movie Poster Image
Martial arts epic is more intense, violent than original.
  • PG-13
  • 2020
  • 115 minutes

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 20 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 39 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Messages are about importance of being true to yourself, not hiding your gifts, working hard, helping others, being honest, being loyal and devoted to both your family and your country. Other important themes include humility, perseverance, teamwork, challenging traditional gender roles and stereotypes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Mulan is brave, compassionate, clever, resourceful. While pretending to be a man, she sometimes tries to fit in, but also stays true to her beliefs about what's important in a partner, what being a warrior means. She disobeys her father, leaves her family, deceives her friends and fellow soldiers, but it's to protect her family and help her country. She demonstrates many important character strengths: courage, perseverance, humility, integrity, teamwork. Most men in the movie have traditional ideas about what women should be like or do but discover they're wrong. Chen Honghui is observant, a good listener who's quick to defend Mulan; instead of feeling betrayed or threatened, he helps and supports her. Mulan's father is patient, loving, honorable; her mother is caring and concerned; her sister is accepting, kind. Even villains have understandable motives, humanizing backstories.

Violence

Several big martial arts battles with close combat, many deaths. Characters are killed, injured in various ways; very little blood shown. Most people are killed with swords. One falls into a fire. Others are dispatched by hand and/or buried by avalanche. Bows/arrows, knives, flaming projectiles. Peril and danger; people are taken captive, threatened. A shape-shifting witch uses her magic to disarm, kill, possess her enemies. A commander declares that the penalty for various offenses (including desertion and stealing) is death, while penalty for dishonesty is expulsion and disgrace. An older conscript with mobility issues falls in a humiliating manner in front of the Imperial guard.

Sex

A few lingering looks. One scene of brief hand-holding. In a nonsexual scene, Mulan (who has been posing as a young man) strips down to take a bath in a river -- bare shoulders, part of back visible. A male soldier takes off his shirt; it's obvious that he's disrobing to join what he thinks is another man in the water. Funny conversation: Soldiers discuss attributes they find attractive in a woman (mostly physical ones).

Language

Serious insults such as "you've brought dishonor to your family," "your family has failed to raise a good daughter," "you bring disgrace to your family, your village, your emperor," and milder ones such as "you stink," "you smell bad," "we're not friends."

Consumerism

Nothing on-screen, but Disney does tie in merchandise for all of its movies, from apparel and toys to decorations and accessories.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this version of Mulan isn't like Disney's nearly scene-for-scene live-action musical remakes of Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King. Directed by Niki Caro and featuring an ethnically Chinese cast, it's an epic martial arts retelling of the original ancient Chinese "Ballad of Mulan." It's much more serious and intense than the animated movie, with fewer gender-bending jokes and no songs or wise-cracking dragon (sorry, Mushu fans). It's also more violent, with both large-scale and one-on-one battle sequences that leave people dead and injured, and a few close calls when main characters seem on the verge of death. Weapons include swords, bows and arrows, knives, and flaming projectiles shot from a catapult (yes, the avalanche scene is still here). Romance is limited to a few lingering looks and one meaningful but brief touching of hands. Mulan (Yifei Liu) strips down to take a bath in a river, showing her bare shoulders and part of her back. Her fellow soldier, a man, is shown shirtless. Fans of the 1998 version should keep their eyes and ears open for several Easter eggs, including a cameo by the original voice of Mulan, Ming-Na Wen. The themes of honor, honesty, and devotion to family and country and the challenging of gender stereotypes will give families plenty to talk about after watching Mulan together.

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bywatts516 September 4, 2020

Best version of Mulan yet

My wife and I love the Disney animated version as do our girls (5 & 7). We wanted to see if it was appropriate for them and, it really depends on their... Continue reading
Adult Written byBrick12 September 6, 2020

Way Worse than expected

The action scenes are cool and kind of epic. But they took what was good from the original and got rid of it. There is no fun in this movie and felt very mature... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bySmartcriticdude September 4, 2020

Goodness Gracious (spoilers below)

Ok, so before I before I become a total Debbie Downer I have some positives.
The Scenery is great when you can tell its not CGI.
The action scenes are pretty... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byVulpixel September 4, 2020

Missed its target audience

A kid won’t be able to sit through this. It has no songs or humor and the pacing isn’t clear enough. Don’t spend money on it.

Set is beautiful, special effects... Continue reading

What's the story?

Disney's live-action MULAN is a dramatic retelling of the original ancient Chinese ballad, not a shot-for-shot musical remake like the studio's other reboots. The film opens in a small village, where a young Hua Mulan (Crystal Rao) causes trouble by doing acrobatics to chase after a chicken, alarming her mother (Rosalind Chao), who doesn't want to see her "acting like a boy." Mulan's father, Zhou (Tzi Ma), tells her that he has indulged her and that she must hide her chi/warrior spirit. Years later, after a matchmaking appointment goes awry, all hope seems lost for the now adolescent Mulan (Yifei Liu). But then Imperial Army scouts ride into the village and demand one male conscript from each family to fight the Rouran Huns, who are led by Böri Khan (Jason Scott Lee) and the warrior witch Xianniang (Gong Li). Without any sons, Zhou -- a proud but wounded war hero --volunteers, but Mulan decides to save him by taking her father's armor and family sword and pretending to be a young man. Under Commander Tung (Donnie Yen), the disguised Mulan (who binds her breasts and puts up her hair) and the rest of her regiment train to save the emperor's (Jet Li) kingdom from the invaders.

Is it any good?

Powerful performances and intense battle sequences make this retelling of Mulan a more mature adaptation, stressing the story's themes of female empowerment and family devotion. Although New Zealander director Niki Caro isn't of Chinese descent, she's spent much of her career focusing on women's stories (Whale Rider, Zookeeper's Wife, North Country), so Mulan fits in with her filmography of strong female characters overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. And kudos to the filmmakers for making sure there was no white-washing in the cast; the ensemble is made up of internationally renowned ethnically Chinese actors from mainland China, Hong Kong, the United States, and New Zealand (where, along with China, the movie was filmed). As with all of her movies, Caro highlights in Mulan the way that women have always had to fight to be taken seriously or to be considered as capable as men. Liu is well cast as the young warrior woman in the making who wants, more than anything, to make her father proud.

Fans of the original should know that this isn't a musical (though instrumental bits of the animated movie's soundtrack do show up in the score), and there's no wise-cracking talking dragon sidekick. But there are plenty of small callbacks to the earlier film, from the jade comb Mulan wears to the matchmaker's to the lucky Cri-Kee, here transformed into a human character named Cricket who's still quite lucky. Even Mulan's original voice, Ming-Na Wen, gets a cameo. There are plenty more, but it's fun to discover them while you watch. It may be hard for the character's youngest fans, but this version really isn't for really little kids. It has lots of potentially disturbing action violence, as well as a few scenes in which it looks like beloved characters are injured or near death. There's not a ton of humor in this version, although there are a couple of funny scenes, like Mulan's disastrous introduction to her potential match's mother and, later, a silly conversation between a disguised Mulan and her fellow soldiers about "what a man wants." A new witch character, Xianniang (expertly played by Gong Li) is frightening but also fascinating and unabashedly feminist. And this movie makes Mulan's love interest a peer, rather than her commanding officer, which is a healthier power dynamic. Ultimately, those looking for their favorite movie in live-action form will need to reset their expectations. But audiences open to a more intense retelling will appreciate this adaptation for what it is: an intense tale of a young woman busting gender stereotypes to lead men in battle and bring honor to her family, village, and empire.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Mulan. Do you think it's necessary to the story? How does live-action violence impact viewers differently than animated violence?

  • Do you consider Mulan a role model? Why is it notable when a female character, especially one of color, is the main character of a major movie? What are the story's messages about feminism?

  • Why is it significant that the cast is composed of ethnically Chinese actors? How does that compare to the casting of Disney's original version? Why is representation important in the media?

  • What character strengths do the various characters display? Why are courage, humility, perseverance, and teamwork important?

  • How does the live-action version compare to the animated one? Why do you think certain changes were made? Do you think audiences should consider it a remake?

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