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‘Mulan’ is the film families need during the pandemic

We didn’t get a chance to see ‘Mulan’ in theaters. And that’s OK. It works perfectly for streaming.

A shot of Mulan (Yifei Liu) in “Mulan.”
A shot of Mulan (Yifei Liu) in Disney’s “Mulan.”
Film Frame, Disney Enterprises Inc.

“Mulan” and “Tenet” are two major blockbuster films that are, in many ways, linked together. They’re both big Hollywood films that were delayed from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Tenet” chose to be released in theaters this weekend. Cities and state with open theaters are showing the film this weekend. It’s unclear how well it’ll do. But the film — headed by Christopher Nolan — is going full blast in its effort to return to normal.

But “Mulan” chose a different route. Starting Friday, Sept. 4, the film will be available for $30 on Disney Plus through Premier Access. You can stream it, download it and keep it as long as you’re a Disney Plus subscriber. In a few months, it’ll be free on Disney Plus for subscribers, too.

After watching “Mulan,” the one major thought that stuck with me is that this really is the perfect family film for the pandemic. When your family is stuck at home, few films are better films to watch than one that promotes positive messages about honor, trust and doing right by your family.

“Mulan” is a live-action remake of the animated film, which tells the story of a young woman who takes her father’s place in the emperor’s army, looking to fight off a group looking to takeover the Imperial City in China. It’s a tale we’ve seen before. Many of us know it. And despite some slight changes — like the lack of musical numbers and no Mushu — the film mostly sticks to the script of the original.

The film, in many ways, reminded me of “Star Wars.” A young hero with extraordinary abilities on a journey to save a group from destruction. There’s even a tie-in with the Force — in this film, it’s called the Chi — so it’s hard not to draw that comparison. There are sword battles and emperors all around as well. There’s even a Darth Vader-like witch character who represents the dark side version of Mulan. In many ways, “Mulan” is like the “Star Wars” movie we never got — a young heroine who must honor her family going through training in order to defend her world.

And it’s a beautiful film. The colors dance on screen. The contrast of the emperor’s army, wearing red and the invaders, wearing black, is beautifully shown. Sunsets, an avalanche and journeys through the woods all pop off the screen, so it’s an excellent film to watch from an aesthetic point of view.

Warriors begin to train in “Mulan.”
Warriors begin to train in “Mulan.”
Disney Enterprises, Inc.

The film does have its flaws. It runs a little too long with multiple endings, much in the same way that “Lord of the Rings” ends. Some of the themes and messages are a little heavy handed. The whole “phoenix rising from the ashes” motif gets a lot of play in this film. And the story moves so quickly that you don’t have time to really get a deep dive into the characters and embrace them. We don’t really learn too much about Mulan’s fellow soldiers, which makes their relationships feel a little hollow.

Families may find it difficult to sit through some of the battle scenes. This film is rated PG-13 for a reason (the violence) so don’t expect a clean film in that way. There isn’t blood necessarily, but the battle scenes do show some harsh blows, cracks and snaps that will make you wince if you’re not expecting it. One or two of the battle scenes definitely don’t work well for a children’s film and fit more along the lines of the PG-13 rating.

But the film has more important messages sprinkled throughout, and the most important is about honor. Defend those who need help. Give aid to the weak. Always keep your family in mind and do right by them while staying true to who you are. Don’t pretend to be someone else. Don’t hide behind your identity. Embrace who you are for the sake of yourself and your future.

Mulan, as a character, is a wonderful role model for young girls and boys, too. She sticks to who she is and keeps her family values strong. She doesn’t let the naysayers knock her down. She doesn’t allow people to bully her or fall victim to the demands of others. She stands up for herself and her true values. She stands as a strong leader. Though there is a slight romance angle in this film, the romance isn’t the entire story. It’s more about power, leadership, strength and honor — all values that can help young children grow into strong adults. It’s a family film with a message.

“Mulan” is available for $30 right now, and that’s a good price if you’re a family about to watch the film. Normally you’d pay north of $40 for tickets to see the film in theaters — and that’s not counting the popcorn, the food and the drinks. Now, you can have a night at home with the family, cuddled together under blankets, watching a film that will remind you what’s important in life. Family is what we get to take with us, and watching a film about family with your family will only hit that home.

It’s unclear how “Mulan” would have performed in the box office if the coronavirus pandemic hadn’t delayed it. We may never know. Maybe we’ll get numbers from Disney about downloads and whatnot, but we don’t know the true impact of it from that perspective. But in a world full of darkness — a world where death tolls rise, hate speech polarizes and positive messages seem to be lost — having the option to watch a lighthearted film from the comfort of your own home is a win for anyone.