Disney has seemingly done everything right with its live-action remake of Mulan: hired an all-Asian cast to bring China’s most famous legend to life; chosen a woman director who, while not of Asian descent, reflects the ancient tale’s themes of female empowerment; and even eliminated a problematic character from the animated version to reflect the cultural impact of #MeToo. Oh, and it has been rated PG-13 for “sequences of violence” by the Motion Picture Association of America.
Well, all of that sounded pretty good. Up until the rating. There go my daddy/daughter movie plans!
I get it: Mulan is an update of the 1998 Disney animated film, but it hardly started life as children’s entertainment. The Ballad of Mulan is as old as storytelling itself, originating in the oral traditions of 6th century China and with textual renderings dating as far back as the 11th century. It has been reimagined and reinterpreted countless times, so why shouldn’t this version of a story of war and sacrifice be a little more intense than the one featuring a wacky dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy?
Because this is still Disney, dammit. When I heard the Mouse was producing a more culturally sensitive, serious-minded rendering of its greatest pre-Frozen girl power epic, I was jazzed. My daughter, who will be a month or so shy of 8 years old when Mulan hits theaters, was just aging out of the “all movies must be animated!” mindset, and I was eager to share with her a moviegoing experience full of action, adventure, and, yes, a young heroine who refuses to accept the limits society places upon her.
We saw an early trailer together before a screening of Little Women (blissfully rated PG), and she was intrigued—enough so that she didn’t notice me wiping away tears; the theater was so dusty. But just yesterday, I happened to catch a TV spot ending in those dreaded words: “Rated PG-13.”
What does that mean about the content of the film? Who knows. When created in the mid-1980s at the urging of Stephen Spielberg, who took to heart complaints that 1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was far too intense for its family-friendly PG, the rating was intended to better inform parents about the potentially upsetting content of a movie.
But parents know not all PG-13s are equal. My daughter is cool with Voldemort avada kedavra-ing kids in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (probably because I couldn’t stop her from reading all the books), but I’m pretty sure she’d never have slept again if I’d taken her to see cyborgs get ripped limb-from-limb in Alita: Battle Angel (which I winced through while sitting next to someone else’s 5-year-old, but that’s a different discussion).
Which kind of PG-13 is the live-action Mulan? I won’t know until I see it—which means my daughter and I won’t be seeing it together in theaters. When it comes to my kid, I trust only my own judgment—and I sure as hell don’t have time to see a movie twice.
Disney’s own Narnia films proved you can do intense battles on a PG rating, and even Harry Potter got through some pretty rough stuff before graduating to the teens-and-up certification. I’m deeply disappointed Mulan has been relegated to (eventual) Disney+ viewing for us, much as many parents of teenage girls probably sighed over Birds of Prey getting slapped with an R. The latter’s adult content probably hurt its box office, but Mulan is expected to rake in as much as $90 million on opening weekend.
Just none of it from my family.
Mulan opens March 27, 2020.