Mulan (2020) – A Movie Review

As a family, and after a very long week, we were very excited to watch Mulan the night it premiered on Disney Plus. 

I can honestly say it was a hit with the whole family!

My eight-year-old and twelve-year-old daughters liked the action, the humor, the live horses, and the fact that an out-and-out action movie starred a female lead. 

My wife appreciated the “girl-power” aspect of the film and that fact that, while epic in scope of warriors warring, it never crossed the line into overt violence. (I challenge you to find a drop of blood among all the swordplay in this film.) She also liked the theme imparting the importance of family.

I found the cinematography breathtaking. There are some incredible shots of landscapes in this film. They also utilize unique angles and perspectives enough so that I actually found myself commenting on it. That doesn’t happen to me very often. 

I delighted in their nod to traditional Chinese action cinema. There’s a lot of wire work in this film with people running up walls, along walls, jumping from rooftop to rooftop, which is fairly common in Chinese film. My eight-year-old asked me at one point if people can really run sideways on a wall. I briefly explained what was going on with that. Total dad move, I know.

Speaking of action, there’s quite a bit of it in Mulan. I found it very interesting how they suggested a great deal of violence without actually showing anything all that violent. If you pay attention, you’ll notice quick cut after quick cut in the action scenes. They don’t linger too long on any one shot during the battles, and that is done with intention. By Disney’s standards, this is a pretty violent film, but I still had no problems letting my eight-year-old watch it because it never actually showed anything. In fact, though it’s rated PG-13, I would have been comfortable with it having a PG rating. 

Granted, some of the action is a little hokey. There are moments that absolutely remind an adult that this is a Disney film and therefore a film primarily aimed at children. But, overall, even this grizzled old man found it quite exciting to watch. 

Furthermore, it was fantastic to see some of our favorite actors in this film. Jason Scott Lee, Donnie Yen, and Jet Li all play significant roles in Mulan. The crazy part was that I somehow didn’t recognize any of them until the credits rolled! Jet Li is virtually unrecognizable. And Jason Scott Lee’s performance proves that he has been extremely underutilized in Hollywood. 

Yifei Liu plays Mulan, and though the actress has been the subject of controversy, there’s no denying the fact that she oozes charisma. She is simply interesting to watch. Her acting didn’t blow me away, but I still found myself captivated by her performance.

However, to me, the real star of the movie is Li Gong. My understanding is that she plays a completely new character named Xianniang, a witch, and I found her character to be the most complex, the most sympathetic, and the most interesting. I was shocked when I visited her IMDB page and saw her body of work. Li Gong has been around for a long time! Though her scenes probably take up no more than fifteen minutes of the film, they were a fantastic fifteen minutes. 

Of course, it’s only fair that I mention that Mushu, the dragon from the cartoon, is nowhere to be seen. However, they do replace him in a way with something quite mesmerizing and important to the story. Mulan is somewhat rooted in reality, at least enough so that a character like Mushu wouldn’t fit. Also, there is no singing in this version of Mulan. You’ll hear some familiar orchestra music, but there are no ballads or bangers. 

I’d also like to briefly talk about the price point. As Disney Plus subscribers, we had to pay $30 for the premier access. For me, this was not an issue. Let me explain why. First of all, we haven’t been to a movie theater in six months due to the pandemic and we’re desperate for something approximating the big-budget, blockbuster experience. Secondly, I would have spent far more than $30 at the actual theater–after tickets, drinks, and popcorn it probably would have been closer to $70. Does it bother me that I had to pay when I already have a Disney Plus subscription? No, because I still would have paid that $70 at the theater while still having my Disney Plus subscription. Of course, there’s also the strong possibility that we would have bought the Blu-Ray in three months, so tack on another $25. Because we bought Mulan on Disney Plus, we now own it for as long as we have our Disney Plus subscription. In my mind, I’m actually coming out ahead. Feel free to disagree with me, but that’s my point of view on the topic. 

If you’re looking for a family movie night, I absolutely recommend Mulan. I’m not sure I would let a child younger than seven or eight watch it, but if you’ve got kids around that age or older, it’s perfect. Enjoy!

The One and Only Ivan – A Movie Review

My wife and oldest daughter adore the book that this movie is based upon, so we had to watch it on Disney Plus when it debuted this weekend. Overall, they were very happy with it.

I wasn’t familiar with the story at all, so I didn’t quite know what awaited me. If you’re unfamiliar with the book, Ivan is a gorilla headlining a small circus found in a shopping mall. (Yes, you read that right.) He has lived most of his life in this circus, and though his domain is not as small as a cage, he also isn’t allowed outside and the quarters are cramped. This part of the book is based on a true story, believe it or not. In the movie, he also shares the space with a dog, a seal, an elephant, a parrot, a chicken, and a rabbit. When a new arrival shows up to join the circus, the entire dynamic shifts, but is it for the better? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

First of all, the CGI in this movie is superb. I had a hard time telling where reality ended and CGI began. To my eye, it appeared almost perfect. Ivan, in particular, looked lifelike, especially when it came to his expressions.

Secondly, the voice acting is superb. I loved Sam Rockwell as Ivan. Danny Devito as Bob is equally lovable. I don’t want to spoil the other parts, but you’ll hear voice work from Helen Mirren, Angelina Jolie, Chaka Khan, Ron Funches, and Phillipa Soo. Impressive cast, huh?

Bryan Cranston plays the human lead, Ivan’s owner and ringleader. As usual, Cranston manages to make a man who has some unappealing traits somehow likable. Furthermore, a child actor named Ariana Greenblatt held her own. The only reason I may sound surprised is because this actor plays the youngest sibling on the Disney show Stuck In the Middle. (You folks with kids will know who I’m talking about.)

I found the story appealing, but I won’t lie, it’s a pretty slow moving film. The ending makes the wait worthwhile, but impatient viewers may wander off to the kitchen for a snack. However, like I said, the ending is really good and solidifies many of the themes explored throughout the film. These themes include ideas pertaining to freedom, security, family, and even friendship.

I think this is a very good family film. My eight-year-old got a little antsy about three-quarters through it, but that’s when things picked up, so she got drawn back in. My wife and twelve-year-old daughter were entertained throughout.

It’s not violent, there aren’t any bad words, and it isn’t terribly sad except for the off-screen loss of one character. Those experiencing tears at the end will do so out of happiness, not sorrow. I’m told the book is far sadder.

If you’re a fan of the book, looking for a family movie, or simply a CGI aficionado, I recommend The One and Only Ivan.

Hamilton On Disney Plus – A Few Thoughts

disneyplushamilton

When Disney Plus announced that Hamilton would be coming to their service, my family got very excited. Yes, my wife and I saw the Chicago production back in 2018, but my nearly twelve-year-old daughter has never seen it and desperately wanted to for years.

Friday night, July 3rd, my wife and daughter hunkered down in the basement and watched it together–they both loved it.

Yesterday, July 4th, I put it on the main TV as we were going about our day. It wasn’t long before I found myself completely captivated by it, on the couch, abandoning my other pursuits.

Because here’s the thing: as good as the Chicago cast was back in 2018, there is something hypnotic about Lin-Manuel Miranda and the rest of the New York cast. In my opinion, Miranda is not a great singer, nor does he have a beautiful voice, yet it’s undeniable that he is a star on that stage. You simply can’t take your eyes off of him.

I also discovered something else about myself in regards to stage theater. Before I get to that though, it’s important to understand Disney Plus’ concept of Hamilton–they simply presented a version that was recorded in 2016. Someone had the forethought to record the musical on the actual stage, which results in closeups on the actors’ faces and the dancers’ movements. The camera weaves in and out of the action, but completely maintains the stage theater’s atmosphere. Hamilton has a rather unique set that is both stationary and dynamic–that is, the set pretty much remains the same but there are several moving components within that set.

Which leads me to my discovery in regards to stage theater: I feel the same way about stage theater as I do about live sporting events. If I’m not close to the front row, I much prefer just to watch it on TV. At the Chicago production, we were so high up that I couldn’t see every little detail of the actors’ expressions, and, though people were moving, the view appeared fairly static. The screen version’s quick cuts and closeups, just like with sports, made for a more intimate, exciting experience.

If you haven’t seen Hamilton, I recommend you do so. Honestly, a year’s subscription to Disney Plus is still a fraction of the cost of an actual Hamilton ticket. I think it’s amazing that seeing Hamilton is no longer an elite experience–now everyone can partake in the event.

It is, frankly, impossible to walk away from Hamilton without feeling some kind of inspiration. It will motivate you to think more, to be more politically active, to be more creative, to better appreciate diversity, and to recognize more often the astounding steps it took to construct this great nation.

Disney’s Prop Culture Gave Me the Feels

propculture

Disney Plus recently released an original series called Prop Culture. In this show, the host visits iconic props from seminal, sometimes historic, Disney movies.

My family and I watched the first episode this evening, which focused on Mary Poppins. I’ll be honest with you–I’m not a fan of the original Mary Poppins. I somehow missed it in childhood and, though I’ve seen it since, it just doesn’t do much for me. (Interestingly enough, I thoroughly enjoyed Mary Poppins Returns.)

So, even with that being said, this first episode about moved me to tears on at least five different occasions. (It wasn’t just me, by the way. My wife admitted as much, too.) I won’t spoil it for you, but the host doesn’t just visit iconic props, he visits iconic people relating to those props. In the case of Mary Poppins, some of these people haven’t seen these props since 1964. To see their faces light up, to see the raw emotion on their faces at the sight of the prop … it was quite moving. For many of them, Mary Poppins was their crowning achievement (and what an achievement it was!). To see that brief return to greatness, that moment of glory–incredible stuff. Keep in mind, I have no emotional attachment to the film and I literally didn’t know anyone the host visited. It was simply a visceral experience to behold.

Of course, the whole thing celebrates Disney and idolizes Uncle Walt. I can’t deny it’s an advertisement for everything Disney. But, hey, I figure if you’ve got Disney Plus you’re already among the faithful. There’s no denying that Disney deserves every ounce of fandom they’ve garnered, and these props truly are a part of cinematic history.

If you love movies, movie history, movie props, or if you simply love seeing pure joy on people’s faces, Prop Culture is a must-watch.

Onward – A Movie Review

onward movie poster

We love both Disney and Pixar in this family, so we intended to see Onward in the theater. Unfortunately, the outbreak had other plans for everyone.

Amazingly, Disney rushed Onward to video-on-demand weeks after its theatrical release. Until this moment in time, such a thing was unprecedented. Perhaps even more surprising, Disney announced that Onward would then arrive on Disney+ soon after the video-on-demand debut. Though I would have otherwise paid for Onward with video-on-demand since the entire family could enjoy it, we decided we could instead wait until it came to Disney+ since we subscribe to that service.

Onward debuted on the streaming platform today, and we just finished watching it.

First of all, the animation is incredible. It’s a beautiful movie to watch, and the details are now so nuanced in these things that you can actually see dust particles in the air. Secondly, it’s a very fun movie. The idea of fairy tale creatures living in modern times is not necessarily new, but I haven’t seen it done before with quite such an irreverent attitude. Biker pixies? Yeah, so what? Garbage eating winged-unicorns? Big deal. Dragons as house pets? Not impressed. I found this blase tone of the movie in regards to these things really funny. Finally, it’s hard not to root for characters played by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt. These are two of Hollywood’s most likable men, after all.

And while my kids enjoyed it well enough, and I enjoyed it well enough, it didn’t touch me the way typical Pixar movies do. Cars, Toy Story, Coco, Inside Out–these are Pixar films that sparked a real emotional connection with me. On paper, Onward should have, but it didn’t.

Is this because of the movie, or is this because we were all piled on the couch, hitting pause for snacks, and talking whenever we felt like it? I don’t know. I’d love to know what your experience was like with that aspect of home viewing.

However, it is certainly a fun family movie. I absolutely recommend it if you’re all looking to spend some time together watching a film. It’s funny, has great graphics, and moves very quickly. Just don’t expect that emotional touchstone. Maybe that’s not a bad thing during these hard times? Nothing wrong with a little fun escapism, right?