A trip to the theater for a family of four costs around $40 — and that’s without the popcorn and soda.
What if you could save a few bucks and watch the same movie at home on the comfort of your couch?
That’s the proposal Disney presented to families in September when it skipped the typical theatrical launch amidst the pandemic and debuted Mulan (PG-13) on Disney Plus for the eye-opening “Premier Access” price of $29.99. The movie is Disney’s latest live-action remake and tells the story of a courageous Chinese woman who disguises herself as a man in order to fight in the army and defend her country from invasion.
But is it worth $29.99, especially when it reportedly will be free to subscribers on Dec. 4? The answer to that question will vary with each family, although I can offer one opinion: Mulan is one of Disney’s best live-action remakes yet.
The movie is a re-telling of the 1998 animated film, which itself was based on a poem/folk song, the Ballad of Mulan, set in China around the 6th century A.D.
The film follows an active young girl whose sense of adventure collides with her society’s belief that women should be quiet and serve their husbands. The plot thickens when China faces invasion, and Mulan’s aging father — who has no sons — is drafted into the army, even though he is partially disabled and walks with a leg brace.
Knowing her father will face certain death, Mulan steals his sword and armor and escapes on horseback in the middle of the night, entering the army disguised as a man.
The gravity-defying battle action is jaw-dropping, and the colorful scenery makes you wish you could hop on a flight and visit China in person. The 2020 version also contains enough surprises to keep fans of the 1998 movie guessing.
The film contains no coarse language or sexuality, although we do see Mulan’s clothless body from behind, blurred by the camera and obscured by foliage, when she bathes in a pond.
Mulan earned its PG-13 rating for sequences of violence that include bow-and-arrow and sword battles and multiple bodies lying on the ground. (The violence remains bloodless, but we see arrows kill soldiers dozens of times.)
The film offers positive messages about loyalty, bravery, telling the truth, and devotion to family. Some have argued that the movie also promotes women in combat, but the film’s real message is for parents to celebrate their daughter’s talents. (Mulan’s father had urged her to “hide” her gifts — gifts that could have been used in ways that didn’t involve a battlefield if he had encouraged her.)
Of course, Mulan also presents moviegoers with an unbiblical worldview. Her family has a shrine, presumably to their ancestors. Her father asks the ancestors to protect her in battle. When she has success, he tells her they’re celebrating. Finally, a bird-like phoenix — which we learn is the “emissary” to the ancestors — flies high over her, apparently protecting her.
Meanwhile, Disney has been criticized for filming Mulan in the same province, Xinjiang, where it has forced 1 million individuals (mostly Uighers) into concentration/labor camps. That’s an issue that’s far more problematic than the $29.99 price tag.
Also streaming this month:
Social Dilemma (Netflix) — Former employees for Facebook, Instagram and other Internet giants reveal how social media is changing society for the worse. Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements, disturbing/violent images and suggestive material. Sept. 9.
Away (Netflix) — American astronaut Emma Green leaves her husband and daughter behind to join an international crew to Mars. Away is a 10-part dramatic series that is entertaining but also includes some sensuality, a little language (but not over the top) and an LGBT angle. If you want a filtered version, then monitor VidAngel and ClearPlay. (Neither had released filters as of mid-September.) Rated TV-14. Sept. 4.
Challenger: the Final Flight (Netflix) — This four-part docuseries examines the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, a disaster that could have been avoided but resulted in the death of seven astronauts. Sept. 16.
Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs (VOD, DVD) — It’s a modern retelling of the Snow White story — only this time, the princess must save seven princes who are turned into dwarves. It has a surprising ending that teaches the true meaning of beauty. It releases on video on demand Sept. 18 and on DVD/Blu-ray Sept. 22. Rated PG for some action/peril.
Spirit Riding Free: Riding Academy: Part 2 (Netflix) — Lucky and her friends continue their adventures at the prestigious Palomino Bluffs Riding Academy. The Spirit series is a favorite of horse-loving children, including my young daughter. Rated TV-Y7. Sept. 4.
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and entertainment for more than 15 years. He is the husband of a wife, Julie, and the father of four young children.