Every film has a price tag to be seen.

Some movies you’d pay full price to see on opening weekend. Others are rentals for home viewing that cost a couple dollars or streaming movies that feel free because you don’t have to pay extra for seeing them.

And then there’s also those movies that people would have to pay you to watch.

Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic as movie studios and theater chains battle over how and when to release big-budget films, the logistics have changed dramatically.

Movie lovers have gone from having to wait a calendar year for certain upcoming titles like the newest Marvel or James Bond film to come out to having some movies release digitally for $29.99.

Probably the biggest culprit of this price-gouging strategy, Disney’s reimagining of Mulan, became available for a reasonable cost with physical media rental this week after spending the summer as a $30 premium add-on to their Disney+ streaming service.

Continuing a Disney tradition of making live-action versions of their classic animated films, the 2020 edition of Mulan follows an old Chinese folktale about a young girl driven to serve in the Chinese army in place of her aging father to help defend the emperor from invaders.

Director Niki Caro’s version removes all the songs and Mulan’s dragon friend Mushu from the film in order to make the film more realistic and sadly strips away all the life out of the film.

Instead of being the bright, fun adventure of the original, the Mulan reimagining attempts to be too many things at one time: war odyssey, light-hearted children’s movie, visual spectacle and commentary on female empowerment and oppression. Yet Caro never really devotes enough time to any of these topics to become more than a mild backdrop to an abridged version of the 1998 original.

As the titular character, Yifei Liu is affable and enjoyable to watch with her facial reactions to events around Mulan often making or breaking the quality of a scene. Her chemistry with Tzi Ma as her father Zhou is authentic and is perhaps the only relationship in the entire film that feels like there is any sizable emotion there.

Veteran action star Jet Li is completely wasted here as the sitting emperor of China, basically only in the film to service plot points and be taken hostage by the invading rebel army. The same could be said of Jason Scott Lee, whose baddie Bori Khan has the character development of a one-episode TV drama villain.

Of the secondary cast, the only interesting performance comes from Gong Li as Xianniang, a new character created for this version of Mulan that serves as a troubled villainess or anti-hero aimed at being the darker side of what Mulan herself could become.

Caro’s Mulan doesn’t have the staying power of the animated original, nor the re-watchability. Scenes outside of the visually impressive action sequences lack dynamic energy or charisma and there’s not any of the Disney magic or catchy musical numbers to keep the attention of younger audiences.

Several of the hit songs from the original film like “Reflection” or “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You” are hinted at in the movie’s orchestral score, but not performed in the film itself, which hurts the ability of Mulan to connect with the younger audiences it’s targeting nor fans of the 1998 classic hoping to hear their childhood staples.

Battle sequences are few and far between in Mulan, but when they do arrive, there’s a lot of detail and impressive choreography to display Mulan’s inner chi and how her balance affects her ability to outfight scores of men on both sides of the battle. 

It’s impossible to recommend this iteration of Mulan at the original $29.99 price point especially given how Disney+ has the 1998 original and the 2005 animated sequel already available with a regular subscription to the service.

Perhaps this is why the studio has altered their approach with subsequent new releases coming exclusively to Disney+ without a premium upgrade like Artemis Fowl or the potential Oscar contender Soul slated for Christmas.

For a single viewing rental on DVD/Blu-ray or when the film becomes part of the regular Disney+ subscription on December 4, Mulan could be something worth checking out at home despite missing out on the larger theatrical experience that the film’s visuals truly deserve.

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