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Despite the Movie Theater Being Your Home, 'Mulan' is Still Worth the Screen Time
September 7, 2020  | By Mike Hughes

I just remembered why I love movies – the big, sweeping kind that fills the screen and fill your eyes and ears and thoughts.

I also found that I miss seeing them in their natural habitat. Watching one at home is great fun; watching it in a movie theater would have been much better.

This comes up because people can now pay extra and see Mulan – the new adventure epic, not the 1998 cartoon – at home.

It wasn't supposed to be like this, of course.

Disney spent $200 million on Mulan, creating a mega-movie for theaters. It had its premiere March 9, moments before the COVID shutdown.

The movie was scheduled twice, postponed twice, then given a compromise.

It is airing on "Premier Access" from Sept. 4 to Nov. 2. Disney+ subscribers would pay an extra $29.99. They can see it as often as they want, as long as they still have Disney+.

Beginning Dec 2, it will be on regular Disney+.

Finally, it will run in actual movie theaters in countries that don't have Disney+.

In some ways, those are the lucky countries. As good as Mulan is – and it's really good, mostly – you can tell that it would be much better on a giant screen.

Disney took a bold step, hiring Niki Caro to direct. She's a somewhat obscure New Zealander, best known for the low-budget gem Whale Rider (2002).

On one hand, those movies are similar – both have bold girls resist family pressure and tackle an epic mission.

On the other, they're opposite: Whale Rider had about three percent of the Mulan budget.

Very little of the Mulan money was squandered on actors' salaries. Viewers might recognize Jason Scott Lee as the villain, Jet Li as the emperor, or Rosalind Chao as Mulan's mom; mostly, however, these gifted actors – including Yifei Liu, 33, in the title role – are unknown to U.S. audiences.

Instead, the money goes to sprawling sets and incredible action scenes. These are epic moments – reminding us that pre-COVID, we could savor such films in theaters; now, we have to settle.

This story goes back approximately forever. Some 1,500 years ago, a Chinese ballad emerged about Mulan, who takes her father's place in battle, fighting heroically. And 420 years ago, Shakespeare's Twelfth Night had a woman disguised as a man.

In Mulan's case, she joins the army to keep her father – a wounded war hero – from being drafted. Think of her as a long-ago version of Katniss in The Hunger Games.

At this point, the movie does have its one slow point. The boot-camp scenes are so-so, at best.

We could gripe about a few other things here and there. Why were the enemy soldiers a mega-swarm when attacking but only a handful in retreat?

Not everyone will be happy with the way supernatural elements wrap into a story that doesn't need them. Still, that's the style that Chinese movies do so well. These soldiers can literally walk up walls; they have spectacular moments, using wires and acrobatic skills. Once you have all of that, it doesn't seem out of place to have a witch transform into a person or a bird.

It all becomes part of the epic feel that looks great on our TV sets – and would look a whole lot better in a movie theater.

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