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Critics say live action Mulan brings honor to Disney’s animated classic in Disney+ premiere

By Benjamin Bullard

It feels like only yesterday (okay, March) when reviewers were serving up early, pre-embargo previews and teasing their first impressions of Mulan, returning in 2020 without Eddie Murphy’s Mushu for a more serious live-action take on the original 1998 animated classic. With only days before the movie was set to hit the big screen, however, theaters hit the first wave of COVID-19 pandemic closures, and the reviews — like the movie itself — went into a holding pattern.

Fast forward to today, when the clouds are finally parting on the fog that settled in half a year ago. The first wave of reviews is in for director Niki Caro's live-action reimagining as the movie readies for its Sept. 4 premiere at Disney+. That means the question we’ve all been turning over in our minds for the past six months finally has an answer (or several of them): Does the non-musical version of Mulan carry the torch for its animated ancestor?

As with most big-ticket movies, critical opinions are mixed, ranging from great to mediocre. But overall, the consensus fixes Mulan as a worthy descendant of its iconic source material. The movie was sitting at 79 percent on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer as of the time of this article’s posting, with positive praise focusing on the epic visual spectacle, as well as the diverse cast’s success in bringing our hero’s against-all-odds struggle to life.

In roughly descending order, with the most positive reactions at the top, here’s a sample of what the critics are saying:

Beautiful. Even on the small screen … For all its realism, Mulan also has some fantastic magical elements, from Xian Lang’s sorcery to the soaring phoenix that occasionally appears to the title character to Mulan’s “wire-fu” fighting style. The international cast is nothing short of great, led by Yifei Liu’s movie star turn as a boundaries-shattering, stereotype-defying hero-warrior for her time and for ours. — Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times

Bittersweet comes the news that [director] Niki Caro’s Mulan is not only the best live-action Disney adaptation to date, but also a dazzling, moving, hair-prickling spectacle. … Caro’s boldly reimagined, battle-laden saga belies its Disney status and spotlights the multifaceted star power of Liu Yifei. The result is a live-action remake done right. — Beth Webb, Empire

An epic coming of age journey with scale and spectacle, and rousing heart, Mulan is a triumph and essentially boils down to a wholehearted tale of feminine resolve, proving the boys wrong and making a father proud while being true to one’s self. That sounds a little simplistic, but Caro’s movie has surprising layers, of color, contour, and shade to shape her magnificent new empowering fairy tale. — Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist

There is no cute cartoon dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy nor a flurry of showtunes in Disney’s new live-action Mulan. And nixing those was the right choice on the road to revamping the 1998 animated movie as a more mature, visually stunning and action-packed vehicle for its title warrior … Mulan is one of the best recent remakes of the Disney catalog, leaning into a massive all-Asian cast (including a breakthrough starring role for Yifei Liu) and creating an empowerment story out of the original ancient Chinese folktale. — Brian Truitt, USA Today

Her skills with swords and sticks and arrows don't come without a PG-13 price tag (though the violence is almost entirely, impeccably bloodless). Whether its stronger rating and more somber tone will translate to a home-bound family audience, only time and streaming revenues will tell; in the meantime, Mulan might be the closest thing to a true old-fashioned theater-going experience the end of this strange summer will see. — Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

From its opening scenes, which take place in a multi-story walled town filled with dozens of colorfully dressed extras in traditional garb, Mulan is never not a delight for the eyes — it wouldn’t even occur to the film to stop stunning. Shot in China and New Zealand by director Niki Caro (Whale Rider, The Zookeeper's Wife), it boasts seemingly every topography known to humans, action sequences with thundering steeds and clashing swords and supernatural special effects that encompass the girly and the Gothic…[But] despite all the splendor, there’s little sense of vision.” — Inkoo Kang, The Hollywood Reporter

Written by Rick Jaffa (Jurassic World), Amanda Silver (Jurassic World), Lauren Hynek (The Christmas Ball), and Elizabeth Martin (The Christmas Ball); and starring Liu alongside Donnie Yen (Rogue One), Jason Scott Lee (Hawai Five-0), Yoson An (The Luminaries), Gong Li (Memoires of a Geisha), and Jet Li (The Expendables), Mulan sweeps onto Disney+ as a $29.99 premium release on Sept. 4.