Mulan is the latest in Disney’s never-ending series of live-action remakes of their animated classics. The movie shares the story of Mulan, a young girl living in China, who decides to take her ailing father’s place in the Imperial Army. She fights the invading Huns and saves China to prove herself as a strong and independent woman.
The original movie has great animation, likable characters, catchy songs, some funny humor and decent drama. But what I wanted from the original Mulan was an epic war action movie, and instead I got a decent comedy-drama adventure.
This was why the Mulan remake was one of the first Disney live-action remakes that I was excited to watch, because I thought the movie could be told in an interesting way. Despite the likable parts of the movie, overall this was another disappointment from the House of Mouse.
There are, however, some elements that Disney produced successfully. This is a gorgeously shot film. Disney actually managed to film in several locations throughout both New Zealand and China. The cinematography really allows you to take in the beauty of these majestic landscapes.
Some of the changes to the plot from the original adaptation are decent. There are two new villains in the new film — one is a witch named Xian Lang, and the other is the leader of the Rouran army, Bori Khan. The newer villains are much more compelling antagonists in comparison to Shan Yu, from the original. Shan Yu was just a generic bad guy who did bad things, because he was bad.
These two newer characters are more sympathetic and have actual motivations for their war and attempted conquest of China. There is also more of a focus on Chinese culture in the newer film versus the original, which is refreshing.
Everything that made the first film charming, likable or made you want to follow the journey of the tale is completely written out — much like a lot of these Disney remakes. The new version of Mulan’s character is not interesting; she has few character traits, and there is no focus on her struggles. The only attributes to Mulan’s character is her ability to be a strong woman, which would not be an issue if her character was also balanced out with realistic character flaws.
Strong characters are successful in movies, as long as their journey matches the story. In the original, Mulan is just a normal girl who starts off with no fighting capabilities. She is clumsy, and badly wants to bring honor to her family by being the perfect daughter despite her flaws, which make her interesting.
When Mulan decides to take her father’s place in the war, she must go into the army without any fighting skills whatsoever. By entering the war as a female, she also risks being discovered and executed. In the updated version of the film, however, the first scene shows that she already knows martial arts and sword fighting.
Her father tries to teach her how to master her qi, a form of mindful martial arts training, but it makes her less interesting because she does not struggle. When Mulan’s father is drafted to the army as ordered by the Emperor, she begs her father not to go. He sternly tells her to know her place as a woman.
This part of the story progression felt rushed and out of place. Another issue with the remake is that the new Mulan had almost no emotional reaction to anything. I remember Mulan’s fear, her struggle and her confidence in the original movie.
Also, instead of Mushu the dragon, they have a new character called the Phoenix, who serves as the family’s protector spirit. The Phoenix is symbolic of life, death and rebirth. Mushu was funny and more helpful to Mulan than Phoenix was. Mushu even acted like Mulan’s parent figure at some points. In contrast, Phoenix just shows up and flies away randomly without saying or doing anything beneficial.
With many Disney remakes, like Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella, the problem is that there is too much focus on trying to fix what was not broken in the original movies. They try to get rid of plot holes and character flaws that were not issued to begin with.
While some of the most iconic characters from Disney such as Belle, Snow White, Cinderella and Mulan definitely have their flaws, they are still memorable because they were interesting and relatable. By removing a character’s flaws, they start to become contrived and cynical, which goes against the female empowerment many are meant to stand for.
It feels like Disney focused more on making money, rather than telling a good story. To quote Mushu from the original film, “Dishonor on you! Dishonor on your cow! Dishonor on your whole family!”