When the Emperor of China (Jet Li) is threatened by Northern invaders, a decree is issued that one man per family must join the Imperial Army to defend the country. Courageous Mulan (Yifei Liu), eldest daughter of ailing honored warrior Zhou (Tzi Ma), disguises herself as a man and joins the army in his place. It will test her spirit and determination to help defeat the ruthless forces of Böri Khan (Jason Scott Lee), out to avenge his father's death, and his ally - the powerful witch Xianniang (Gong Li).
This entertaining epic adventure is visually stunning. Yet another Disney animated feature gets the live-action treatment and the result is one of their best efforts in recent years. Director Niki Caro ("Whale Rider") masterfully guides a huge international, primarily Asian, cast through this grand saga. Yifei Liu is magnificent as the beautiful and fearless heroine. Besides the supporting players mentioned above, Rosalind Chao and Xana Tang portray Mulan's mother and younger sister. Donnie Yen is Commander Tung and Yoson An is Honghui, a recruit who becomes friends with Mulan. If you look quick, you may spot Ming-Na Wen (voice of the animated Mulan and star of TV's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.") in a cameo. While the cartoon dragon Mushu is missing, a giant flying phoenix guides the budding warrior on her journey. Based on the Chinese folklore "The Ballad of Mulan", the screenplay was written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin. The only drawback is a slow and long setup, but it establishes the heroine's life and goals. Once the battles begin, it's poetry in motion - where heroes can leap tall buildings in a single bound (think "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"). Sweeping vistas, shot in New Zealand and China by cinematographer Mandy Walker, are designed for theater viewing. Still, they are also picturesque on smaller screens. This time around, characters don't break out in song. But Harry Gregson-Williams' instrumental score is moving. Christina Aguilera sings the new tune "Loyal Brave True" and the original's "Reflection" (also sung in Mandarin by Yifei Liu) over the closing credits. It's a far cry from the 1998 animated musical, but in a good way. Like the phoenix, "Mulan" triumphantly rises and doesn't get lost in translation. (4/5 CAMS)
Rated PG-13 (for sequences of violence)
Running Time: 115 minutes
Streaming September 4, 2020 on Disney+.
(Requires subscription to Disney+ and an extra $29.99 for Premier Access.)