Buried at the core of "Mulan" is the concept of deception. Deceiving others for the perceived greater good, deceiving an overzealous enemy and even deceiving one's self at a steep price.
All of them are at play in the long-awaited, oft-disappointing live-action remake.
There are some things going for the oft-dull film.
Director Niki Caro, who proved adept at inspirational tales with "Whale Rider," "North Country" and "McFarland, USA," has a pulse on the heart of the feminist fable, about a woman who masquerades as a man to protect her family and homeland. The visuals are dynamic, and the casting is note-perfect.
Martial arts legends Jet Li, Donnie Yen and Gong Li play significant roles, and the cinematography and choreography often recalls exaggerated, Ang Lee-style theatrics.
The core of the film -- that Mulan could convincingly trick her military comrades into thinking she's a man -- falls flat. While Liu Yifei thrives with the athletic ability and emotion needed in the lead role, the makeup department did her no favors. She looks more like a supermodel than a rough-hewn male soldier. Scenes in which men assume her gender are unintentionally funny.
The new "Mulan" takes a more somber and serious tone than the original, swapping out the Eddie Murphy-voiced comic relief dragon Mushu for a CGI Phoenix, and subduing most musical moments in favor of tense, overly dry brooding.
It's been a long and rough wait for superfans. Originally slated for a July 24 release, the movie was bumped to Aug. 21, before landing Sept. 4 on Disney+ as a $30 early access add-on. It will be free on the app Dec. 4, and unless you're a superfan, you're best off waiting until then.
At least fans will be able to be mildly disappointed in the comfort of their own homes, and be able to hit pause if they get a little drowsy.
At least there is impressive artistry at work. The film is every bit as gorgeous and sweeping as its best live-action remakes: "The Jungle Book" and "The Lion King."
Add this one to the pile of disappointing live-action remakes of Disney classics, along with "Aladdin," "Dumbo," "Alice in Wonderland," "Lady and the Tramp" and "Beauty and the Beast."
The movie's legacy may well be what it does for boosting Disney's app and changing the way studios sell movies to the public. In those respects, "Mulan" is as monumental a cinematic landmark as its 1998 predecessor.
It's too bad the movie itself is a snoozer.