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  • Composed by Harry Gregson-Williams
  • Disney / 83m

While most of Disney’s string of largely-unloved but financially successful “live action” remakes of their classic animations over the last few years have stuck pretty closely to the stories of the originals, Mulan has given the opportunity to take a more serious look at the Chinese legend – no Mushu, no songs – and because of Covid-19, no cinema release either, with it pitching up on Disney+ (but as well as paying for Disney+ you also have to donate one of your kidneys and remortgage your house to pay for the surcharge).

Mulan is the most recent of the animations they’ve remade (so far) – but of course the legendary composer of its score is no longer with us to tackle the new one, so director Niki Caro turned instead to Harry Gregson-Williams, scoring his highest-profile movie since The Martian five years ago (which turned out to be one of his better scores). I won’t mention the previous score again because it’s fairly pointless to do so – we knew the new one wouldn’t sound anything like it, and it doesn’t.

Harry Gregson-Williams

I have to say it starts really promisingly – the main theme is introduced in the opening “Ancestors” (which turns out to be by far the strongest track on the album) and is then explored further in “Tulou Courtyard” – in the former it gets a fairly straight orchestral treatment, in the latter there are florid Chinese touches all around it – it’s pretty music and very satisfying.

Action arrives in the third cue, “The Desert Garrison” – there are some thunderous touches but alarm bells start ringing at some of the more modern elements, because it becomes apparent that Gregson-Williams is essentially treating the action as if the film were any old modern action-thriller – it’s OK if you like that sort of thing (and I guess more orchestral than he would do for an Antoine Fuqua movie) but rather indistinctive.

A highlight cue is “Mulan Leaves Home”, with its erhu (well, perhaps its an erhu) solo exquisitely played and expressing a tinge of sadness and no little determination in the cue’s first half, before some dramatic sweep in its second. The pick of the action material for me comes in “Training the Men”, with its intricate (if slightly generic) percussion. “The Witch” rekindles John Powell’s Bourne action style, which dominated such scoring for so long (but I can’t remember hearing in a while now) and that’s quite good, but when the track descends to electronic atmospherics later on it’s hard to resist skipping ahead. I do quite like the anthemic style of “Imperial City” (even if it does sound very familiar).

Readers blessed with especially sharp memories will recall that four paragraphs ago I said that there are no songs. This is a lie, in fact (more on them later) but it does contain melodies from a couple of the songs from the animation. The first to appear is actually “Honour to Us All”, which comes up in the track “Honour to Us All”. Gregson-Williams also takes the previous movie’s most famous song, “Reflection”, and uses it as a secondary theme for the character, building it into a few cues, including the trailer music-like “Mulan Rides Into Battle” which will possibly be the score’s most popular cue, but I prefer its much gentler arrangement in “Four Ounces Can Move a Thousand Pounds” (I had no idea the Chinese measured things in ounces and pounds).

There are three songs at the end of the album. Two of them are “Reflection” – one, a new recording by Christina Aguilera (who sang the pop version of it last time as well) and the other, a Mandarin version sung by Liu Yifel (who plays the lead role). There’s also one new song, “Loyal Brave True”, co-written by Gregson-Williams and again sung by Aguilera.

This is a frustrating score as heard on the over-long album. In its lighter moments, I love the way Gregson-Williams mixes the western orchestra with ethnic Chinese touches – it’s often a fertile ground for film music composers, that – but too often the music just drifts off into anonymous territory which doesn’t seem to exploit the musical possibilities presented by a film like this nearly as well as it could, particularly in its bland action sequences. I was hoping for more.

Rating: ** 1/2 | |

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  1. İsmail (Reply) on Saturday 5 September, 2020 at 23:16

    great review! However, I wanted to know if there will be a TENET review?

  2. Spicy Sausage (Tino) (Reply) on Saturday 5 September, 2020 at 23:34

    Hey James, thanks for this review. I have received the information now thanks to you. It has come in this format, quite good. Can you tell me how to print your review on envelopes? There is no paper in my village right now because of the virus but I have a pack of envelopes I bought in January, using the estate of my uncle.

    You know my name! Great news about everything.

    Mulan is FUCKING SHIT just listen to the Goldsmith everyone.

    Thanks James. I hope you receive this information. Give my best to everyone. Hey all you readers, check out my blog at [link removed]

  3. Gabriel Bezerra (Reply) on Sunday 6 September, 2020 at 02:05

    Favorite Disney Princess theme? and why Mulan?
    Fairly disappointed, but expected, better something new.
    The only Gregson-Williams that I listen to constantly is Prince of Persia, and my surprise to hear a straight copy-paste motif from that film used here!
    Watching the movie I realized why he used… The foes are very similar.

  4. The Nandolorian (Reply) on Sunday 6 September, 2020 at 03:52

    Ooh you’re gonna hate Tenet’s soundtrack. Remote-control action, constant sound effects, annoying electronics for 90 minutes.

  5. Matt Cadman (Reply) on Sunday 6 September, 2020 at 15:16

    The whole time I watched this new version of Mulan I longed for the old. The magic of Jerry Goldsmith’s powerful score was sorely missed and the narrative itself felt quite forced.
    The best moments of this score are primarily when the songs from the original are successfully incorporated into the underscore. Those moments made my ears and heart happy, but outside of that I was relatively bored.
    My favorite Harry Gregson Williams scores are Kingdom of Heaven and the first Chronicles of Narnia score and I’m afraid that’s remained unchanged. This new score for Mulan isn’t horrible, it’s just so “I’ve heard that before and better”.
    Also, not sure if anyone has picked up on this, but the first rising phrase of Mulan’s theme sounds strikingly similar to John Powell’s theme for Rachel from the film Paycheck. Just my opinion I suppose, but it haunted me until I figured it out.
    Cheers to another great review! Thanks for what you do for us film score lovers, James!

  6. Victor Field (Reply) on Sunday 6 September, 2020 at 19:07

    I can wait until December when Disney+ subscribers can watch it without coughing up extra cash.

    \\what I’ve heard of the music seems to put “sounding Chinese” ahead of “being good” on its list of priorities.