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Where Disney’s other live action remakes carry a, “why bother?” element to them, Mulan’s existence in 2020 isn’t without meaning. The story, while rife in Chinese nationalism and draped in behind-the-scenes controversy, the core is still that of a woman succeeding in a place dominated by men. There’s an honest fear and pressure within Mulan (Yifei Liu) as she takes up arms to defend her country, not anxiety over being a woman so much as the penalty if caught.

Adapting the animated version means recycling scenes and lines. Certainly, the actors and digital effects lack the capable flourishes evident in a more free form medium. Delivered by real people, there’s additional earnestness. In failing her test to properly pour tea, Mulan’s family is scolded because they, “failed to raise a good daughter.” It’s as much a crisis of public shame as it is identity, and expecting everyone to be the same person. In another strike against her, Mulan is told her powers are meant for warriors, not daughters. Mulan’s feminist bite speaks loudly under a standard (and westernized) Wuxia affair.

… time is unlikely to support the thematic leanings over Mulan’s messy background

The story goes where expected, paying homage, also as expected. It fails where the other Disney offerings have. Things like training montages lack the freeing quality generated by pencil and ink. Solidifying Mulan in reality – mostly, anyway – means avoiding songs and rejecting color splashes. Even as soldiers sprint across walls and impossibly leap across rooftops, there’s a pesky reality anchoring Mulan to the ground. A fable, yet the script never appears to openly acknowledge as much, short of its magic routines from a villainous witch, a new touch bringing added thematic might.

Consider now Mulan isn’t just one woman against the world or a culture. Now, there’s two sides, Mulan representing the right, Xianniang (Li Gong) an opposition who chooses evil to fight against her nation’s derision. For a film ignoring kooky, comic relief side characters, Xianniang’s ability to transform into birds allows creative splashes, plus linking into the themes. Imagine either side embracing Xianniang for who she is instead of isolating her, and the story’s dynamics change. Hence, how Mulan so easily separates good and evil, beyond the gratingly obvious villain’s black cloaks and hero’s colorful armor.

Sadly, time is unlikely to support the thematic leanings over Mulan’s messy background – from grotesquely filming in (and thanking) provinces with Muslim concentration camps to its potentially industry-changing direct-to-Disney+ digital release. Disney’s beautiful ‘90s version, although not without its own issues, already sustains itself. In 2020, Mulan in reality works, but is almost certainly to be short-lived.

Video

Beautiful work by Disney here, capably upscaling a 2K source, maintaining a consistent degree of detail. Mammoth texture suits not only the close-ups for their facial definition but the impressive armor too. Medium shots reveal lavishness in set design, then holding to the same sharpness. Gorgeous landscapes pile on top of one another, each scrumptious in showing off the tech.

HDR counts for a lot of this. Hefty peak brightness brings a definite glow to the cinematography, laying on the contrast, giving zest to sunlight and reflections. Gold and other metals shimmer, taking advantage of this format. Likewise, Mulan serves as a consistent explosion of color, utilizing the awesome costume work to bring out every possible hue. Most scenes look akin to walking through a rainbow, whether it’s military garb or period-leaning outfits. Scenes in the main province appear idyllic given their splendor.

Noise-free digital imagery excels, even when challenged in an avalanche, spreading snow. The haze doesn’t lose out to compression as is common to such scenes. It’s easily among Disney’s best work on this format so far. If any issues do exist, they’re easily hidden by capable, strong black levels, nailing shadows and giving Mulan the final piece needed to secure perfection.

Audio

As if to confirm this is, in fact, a Disney UHD release, the lacking Dolby Atmos mix needs a hefty volume bump to reach full range. Once there, surrounds present a showcase, utilizing each speaker during action scenes to send arrows flying or swords clashing. Birds caw as they pass, making sure to catch overheads as they go. Even voices find a spot in the heights, right above where needed during a critical point near the end. Earlier, catapults launch an attack, sweeping as the ammo flies, leading to the avalanche that sends rushing snow through the soundstage.

Better than most on Disney’s sliding scale, Mulan makes a decent statement in the low-end. Charging horses slam into the LFE channel, setting scale through sound and visuals. Catapult-launched flaming boulders slam down, deeply impacting the subwoofer. War drums rumble with each hit. It’s not the tightest bass, and still lacking the deepest levels, if competent.

Extras

On the Blu-ray only, things open with a 15-minute, basic making-of. Actresses/actors feature in the next two bonuses, totaling 15-minutes as a pair. An EPK on the score and another on original voice actor Ming-Na Wen’s small role come next, deleted scenes and a music video after that.

Mulan
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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Movie

While carrying controversy along with it, Mulan successfully embellishes the feminist themes with a stronger reality base.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 57 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: