Is the new live action Mulan film ok for children? Mulan Movie Review | Safe for Kids?, an honest parents guide and Asian mom review of the new Disney film. No spoilers! #Mulan May contain commissioned links.
Mulan Movie Review | Safe for Kids?
From animated classic to real life hero, could a live action film ever truly capture the heart and soul of the legend that is Mulan? Because quite frankly to quote the Emperor, “you don’t meet a girl like this every dynasty.”
No love interest.
No hair cutting.
But we have a witch?
The odds were not in Disney’s favor.
In this Mulan Movie Review | Safe for Kids?, I’m talking visuals, the story, a full MPAA rating breakdown for the first ever Disney PG-13 live action remake, and sharing whether I’ll be letting my own kids see this film.
Most rare and beautiful of all? Or a disgrace on your whole family? In this no spoiler parent review, we’re going to talk honestly about whether it’s worth paying the $29.99 to watch this long awaited release on Disney+.
Yeah, I’m Biased. But Here’s Why You Should Care
I felt like this movie review needed a disclaimer. A big one. Because let’s face it, Mulan is more than a movie to me. She’s more than just another Disney character. Those that know me well know that I am THE biggest Mulan fan. Period.
I’ll be the first to admit as an Asian American who grew up with the original animated classic, I’m beyond biased. Nothing in my mind could top the original film (where I could recite all of the lines by heart). No note could replace the theme songs of my life. No person could replace my singular epitome of an Asian role model.
As a little Korean girl from the 1980s-90s, I had very little Asian representation in entertainment and media. Shy, different and exposed to racial hatred at a very young age, I looked up to what little Asian heroes I had. Mulan has always been my favorite Disney princess, one of the few Asian female heroines I had during my childhood who was socially accepted. By elevating Mulan to Disney Princess status, Disney empowered little Asian girls to feel equal and beautiful through Mulan. And I truly believe that Disney made it easier for others to see the beauty in Asian people, culture and history through her story. In short, Mulan gave me hope for a world free of racial discrimination.
The more that I thought I was ready to see my childhood heroine up on the big screen as a real-life person, the more I actually wasn’t. When I heard that Mulan was following the long line of Disney live action remakes, I was scared out of my mind. Watching many of the live action pursuits fail again and again – I couldn’t bear to think that THIS Mulan would not be accepted by modern day society, that THIS Mulan would not bring hope and empowerment to a new generation of little Asian girls.
As the date kept getting pushed back, as the excitement and letdown cycle continued, as the H-E-double-hockey-sticks year of 2020 lingered on – the anticipation was killing me slowly. And now, here we are at the film release that no one saw coming. From big screen premiere and adorable Mulan Disneybound to a 55″ TV and pajama bottoms.
Deep breath. Here we go.
From bold, rich colors to delicate costuming to breathtaking scenery, Mulan pulled at my wanderlust-longing heart. (Thanks, COVID.) From couch to vast landscapes and intricate architecture in a blink of an eye, I was able to travel again safely to a country untouched by modern civilization. The beauty of China was present and appreciated in this film.
And I soaked in all of the details – from nature’s majesty to village ingenuity to elaborate palaces to watercolor inspired art to martial arts displays, Mulan is visually inspiring, highlighting Chinese culture, tradition, and history in a truly touching way.
And I cannot get over how all of these stunning visuals included 100% real Asian represented people on screen. To take in an entire film diverse in Asian beauty for 115 minutes straight – it’s a childhood dream come true.
And this is where the movie lost me.
31 couplets. “The Ballad of Mulan” is the original narrative poem and the basis of where the Mulan legend comes from. And according to the filmmakers of this live action remake, it’s the foundation for which this Mulan movie is based off of. Authenticity, accuracy, history, culture, representation, preservation – the goal of this reborn Mulan was to give her story more credence to the Chinese legend that she is famous for. Catering to audiences in China, this story precedence makes sense. More Chinese appreciation, less Disney musical.
So a lot of the original had to go. I get that. And if it was just Mulan as the key of this live action film and everything of the old animated film was replaced with new and original “ballad” material, I would have been OK with that. But somewhere between the creation of a new and the balance of the original, you ultimately produce a watered down story. Too much of trying to please the old fans, the new fans, and basically everybody.
So a ton of the original characters were either deleted or heavily toned down to fully focus on the ballad heroine. In my opinion, that’s a huge mistake. No love interest, OK. Toned down friends, that hurt. This movie made Mulan appear incapable of real friendships and connections. Cutting Mushu and erasing Mulan’s inner conflict, humor and sarcasm made Mulan seem more mature than she actually was for her age.
But a distant family, truly painful. Familial love was completely watered down, the center of Mulan’s ballad. Without a strong supporting cast, Mulan’s character seemed too perfect, too choreographed, unemotional – almost superhuman at times. And from a connection to the audience standpoint, that worries me.
You would think that the new characters would more than make up for the lacking supporting roles. The witch, Xianniang, has potential. But superhuman Mulan interacting with a dark magic user seemed out of place for a “ballad accurate representation of the film.” Böri Khan has the scary bad guy look of Shan Yu from the original film. But he doesn’t get really interesting as a villain until the end. I give big props though to Donnie Yen for being my favorite new character, Commander Tung (he must have been one with the Force).
There’s a line between realism and supernatural. If this live action Mulan did a full departure film, keeping with an authentic ancient China war movie, I would have been more supportive. But the decisions to add in a dark magic witch, superhuman martial arts and fighting skills, and symbolic spirit animals seemed like movie fluff moves over focusing on the substance of a good movie – story and characters.
But the songs? Seriously?! I had no realization of how much those catchy tunes were deeply rooted in character development and story building until they were erased from this film. Don’t get me wrong. It’s understandable why the director wanted to delete some of the iconic songs (some very much historically, culturally and gender demeaning at times). But all of them?
Without the songs to build up the story, you’ll find our main character missing personality. And our poor supporting characters (remember the trio Yao, Chien-Po, and Ling?), I’ll be surprised if you can name them all in a lineup by the end of the film. They’re barely memorable.
And that’s not all that was cut. Some of my favorite iconic scenes were either cut short or cut out of the film entirely. I kept scratching my head, thinking that these scenes would be replaced with some amazing new creative visions or fill big plot holes. There were some great camera tricks and Crouching Tiger-esque martial arts fight sequences that will wow. But honestly no new scene really stood out to me as a “YES!” fist pumping Mulan moment.
With so much of the original gone, there had to be some great comedic moments, right? Nope. I was shocked to see about 99.99% of the humor cut. And I remember so many laughs in the original. Humor was such an intricate part of the animated movie. It’s even mentioned in the movie as an important human trait. But there was not one moment where I laughed in this film.
Speaking of cuts, no hair cutting. (Not a spoiler. Look at the movie poster.) Her decision to take her father’s place, ignore societal hierarchy, disgrace her family’s honor, and face punishable death was one of the most iconic scenes in the original film. It was one that even as a young child, I could feel the anguish and overwhelming weight of her choices.
And yet now in the live action – that inner turmoil between fear and courage, and that inner strength to overcome her fears and the intense love for family was almost completely fast-forwarded. With no pause or even intense synthesizer music to carry her through the montage – it was a huge scene letdown for me.
Mulan still makes for a strong heroine on screen: brave, loyal, and true. Sure. And there’s still a Disney ending. But I didn’t feel that pull at the heartstrings, that gut-wrenching Disney cry. Not this time. The live action Mulan does a lot of things right. A nod to Chinese culture, yes. A nod to ancient history, a people, a poem, a legend, yes.
But where is the heart and soul of Mulan in this film? Where is the emotional journey that we feel with her and can relate to? Where are the memorable moments that the new generations of Mulan lovers will cling to? That’s what I worry about.
That PG-13 Rating Explained
Is Mulan kid friendly? I am highly skeptical of all MPAA ratings (um hello, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker not disclosing any language??). As we know, not all movie ratings these days are the same. With ratings unpredictable these days, PG rating oscillating between Incredibles 2 intense and Christopher Robin calm, having fully disclosed parent guidelines can be helpful in determining if a movie is safe for your whole family to watch – and worth paying the extra $29.99 to see. With the new live action Mulan as the first ever rated PG-13 live action remake, is this Mulan Movie Review | Safe for Kids? Parents should be concerned.
Why is Mulan rated PG-13? For the second time in Disney live action history (Pirates of the Caribbean being the first), Mulan is rated PG-13 for “sequences of violence.” Is Mulan safe for kids to watch? Or is Mulan too scary for kids? Are there other surprises we should be worried about in the MPAA movie rating?
Language. Thankfully, no swear words are found in this film. No references any language that would be a red flag for small children. Thank you, Disney.
Adult Themes. There are a few minutes of very brief blurred nudity (parts meticulously hidden behind trees and nothing is shown), solely for bathing. No other potential adult theme issues are presented.
Violence. Y’all, it’s war movie. While blood and gore is kept to a minimum, you do see multiple battle sequences with swords and bow and arrows, after battle scenes, and the implications of death. And these are the depiction of “real” people, which could be very intense for little children.
Dark magic of the new “witch” character, Xianniang, can be a little suspenseful at times when she is fighting. Same can be said about the new bad guy, Böri Khan. While certainly creepy on many levels and a little intense when he’s fighting, again, very minimal blood/gore. I would compare the intense/suspense/fighting to that of the new live action Beauty and the Beast. Tolerable for older kids.
What Mulan age rating is recommended for kids to watch?
This is the second ever PG-13 rated live action movie for Disney. That’s a big deal. Overlooking the concept of a war movie, a somewhat scary witch and a creepy bad guy, this movie is somewhere between live action Beauty and the Beast and The Rise of Skywalker. I think my 11-year old and 7-year old could handle watching this film. But would I want them to?
Is Mulan safe for kids? Mulan is definitely a more “adult” live action film. Not playing off whimsical or fantasy aspects of the Disney franchise, the overall tone is heavy on serious dialogue with heavy Asian accents (may be difficult for little ones to understand) and war/fighting (with weapons and hand-to-hand combat).
So how old should my kids be before watching Mulan? What age rating is recommended to watch Mulan? At almost 2-hours long, I recommend Mulan for kids age 5 years and older at the very least, but mostly for older, more mature 8-9 years old child. And honestly as much as I want my little daughter to watch Mulan, I think she would be bored. Without funny punchlines, catchy songs or dances, the beauty of the film can only hold her attention for so long. And in the end, overshadowing the true themes and lessons that this live action Mulan brings to new audiences.
But the bigger issue with the PG-13 rating is how Disney is exiling a huge portion of their key audience – younger children. This is a huge blow to the Asian community – an opportunity to grab kids at a young age and change the racial narrative for future generations to come.
I never ended a movie with such emptiness in my soul. I expected to be wowed. Or angry. Or overly emotional. Or enraged. But I just sat there with honestly no reaction. While the live action remake had good intentions of a more historical and authentic portrayal of Mulan, something was missing. A BIG something.
It’s as if everyone on this movie lost sight of the big picture – a remake of a classic. So many of the reasons why the live action remake of Mulan was created in the first place were cut from the film. Everything, ironically, except her hair. The missing songs, the missing characters, the missing character development, the personal connection and audience’s relatability to the characters, the funny lines, the awkwardness, the coming of age, the familial love – all replaced with ballad overtones and visual appeal do not make for a successful movie.
Is it worth paying the extra $29.99 on Disney+? That is an entirely different question. With COVID-19 crumbling the entertainment industry, it is worth investing in a movie you would have seen in the theaters anyway, just to support the artistry and hundreds of people that make the beautiful movies you get to be entertained by. My overly biased film review should not stop your family from supporting Asian representation in film, ever.
I should be full of disappointment for the remake of my beloved childhood heroine. But as I closed down my computer, I just shrugged my shoulders and uttered “2020.” A year of ultimate letdowns and unprecedented times – it basically sums up my feelings of this live action Mulan movie. The biggest disappointment, watching a new generation of potential Mulan loving kids grow up with a faint or nonexistent memory of her. Lost in the chaos that is 2020.
Rare and beautiful? Yes. A blockbuster live action Disney film to inspire a new generation of Mulan lovers? I couldn’t find the Mulan I envisioned for this movie. I hope that I’m wrong. I hope that so many people will fall in love with this new Mulan that she will be talked about for generations to come. I hope that old die-hard Mulan fans will feel even more validated. And I hope this Mulan is only the beginning of even more Asian representation in the entertainment industry, and the acceptance of Asian people as equals.
Movies without audiences truly connecting to the characters and story – it’s just another forgettable film. I think Mulan missed the mark on relating to the audience during these troubling times. A time when we are all looking for a hero.
But then again, maybe Grandmother Fa spit in my bean curd.
Follow Mulan on social media:
- Website: https://movies.disney.com/mulan-2020
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WaltDisneyMulan/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/disneysmulan
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mulan/
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I was invited to screen this film in exchange for this Mulan Movie Review | Safe for Kids? All photos courtesy of Disney. Be sure to follow Raising Whasians for more movie updates, celebrity interviews, entertainment and behind-the-scenes info!