Growing up, the animated Disney film “Mulan” was always one of my favorite Disney movies. Not only was Mulan an inspiring character, but the film was loaded with some of the most iconic songs of my childhood (ex. “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”) and some of the funniest characters (ex. Mushu). I also truly felt represented as a young Asian girl by the amazing heroine that was Mulan. It’s safe to say that when I heard Disney was doing an live-action remake of the Mulan movie, I was very excited. I simply couldn’t wait to watch my childhood hero come to life on screen.
However, as you may know, there was a ton of controversy and many issues surrounding the release of this movie. Along with the controversy, many individuals who saw the movie were simply disappointed by what they saw. They felt that the movie paid a poor homage to the original Disney movie, and was simply not just the Mulan they grew up knowing. Of course, this led me to become very curious at what the movie actually was like, so I decided to watch it (thanks Jessica!). Coming out of watching Disney Mulan, I certainly have a lot to say about the movie, both good and bad.
Let’s start off on a positive note shall we? Here are some of the best things about the movie:
While I’m no fashion connoisseur myself, I certainly do have an interest in fashion and I found the costume design for Mulan quite beautiful. The costumes took traditional Chinese design and infused it with a mythical look. All the costumes were quite intricate, everything from the embroidery on Mulan’s matchmaker gown to the metal plating on the armor was simply exquisite. The costumes also told a narrative story, the protagonists were all donned with bright and bold colors, while the antagonists were shrouded in dark and shadowy robes. From a purely visual standpoint, I thought that the design team was brilliant. Special shout out to the Witch, who had by far my favorite character design. I especially loved her makeup, it was so eccentric and bold and it truly made her standout. Her final outfit in the throne room scene with Mulan was just so beautiful and is a personal favorite of mine.
Another excellent aspect of the Disney Mulan Live Action remake was the setting and scenery. The movie refreshingly used CGI very sparingly, something Disney had used extensively in other movie remakes. I think the lack of CGI helped highlight the beauty of China and added a very realistic, grounded feel to a movie that had such fantastical elements incorporated throughout. The colors and style of the architecture gave the movie a very authentic chinese feel and helped set the stage for the plot to come. I certainly feel that there was plenty of research put into this movie and that the design team did quite well in designing the set pieces.
Now, time for the part you’ve all been waiting for. It would not be inaccurate to say that I truly thought this movie was a travesty. As such a huge fan of the original animated movie, I thought Disney just simply butchered what could have been something so amazing and wonderful. Everything from the removal of the music to the character changes really just changed the viewing experience, and while the plotline was more or less the same to the original movie, it’s the things they changed along the way that really ruined it for me.
So, the character changes, they really were, uh, something. Not only did they didn’t put Mushu in the live action movie, they also left out cricket, Mulan’s grandmother, and Li Shang. Instead, they chose to replace Li Shang with a fellow soldier of Mulan’s, but personally I felt that the romance between the two was very forced and not very natural at all. Not only that, they chose to replace Mulan’s iconic grandmother with a sister whose sole personality trait is that she’s afraid of spiders. Mushu was replaced with a phoenix, who has significantly less charm (or even scenes) than that of our beloved red dragon. In fact, the phoenix only shows up in a couple of scenes to fly around overhead and guide Mulan to her destination. I’m also not completely certain why they chose to replace Mulan’s beloved general with a soldier. If anything, I would have rather that they just leave out a love interest altogether if that’s what they were trying to do. This isn’t even mentioning the witch, who is going to get her own separate paragraph completely.
I would say that by far the worst change they made for the movie was the implementation of “chi”. It’s basically this magical force that allows people to be super agile or strong or whatever, and in some cases it gives people magical powers? I’m not really sure, they didn’t elaborate a ton on this topic but they made it seem like both men and women have chi but chi is only acceptable when demonstrated by men. Mulan, in the live action remake, is born with a very strong chi but is told to hide it because she’s a woman. This, in my opinion, was a terrible change as what made Mulan so amazing in the original movie was that she simply was just a normal girl who wanted to protect her father. She didn’t have any of this “chi” that allowed her to be extraordinary, she was simply extraordinary because she worked hard and dedicated herself to becoming strong. She was a hero in the end not because she was born with magical powers, but because she was a hard worker. The implementation of this “chi” thing completely dismisses all these notions, and Mulan simply becomes an all-perfect Mary Sue type figure that becomes wholly unrelatable.
My main contention with the Witch character is because I felt as though her storyline was predictable and her potential wasn’t truly explored. The Witch is supposed to represent Mulan’s counterpart, but at the same time she is similar to Mulan in many ways. Both of these women are scorned but powerful, held back by the men in their lives that believe a woman’s sole purpose is to get married. Ultimately, the witch realizes the error of her ways and chooses to sacrifice herself to save Mulan, who she suddenly becomes friends with in the end. My problem is that this Witch character is quite literally the MOST POWERFUL character in the entire movie. She can turn into a hawk, a swarm of birds, possess people, shapeshift, kill people with her magic sleeves, etc. There is quite literally nothing stopping her from just abandoning Bori Khan and taking over the entirety of the Chinese empire all by herself, with or without the help of an army. Instead, she chooses to serve Bori Khan who treats her as nothing but a mere slave, not realizing that this isn’t the only path for her to take until she meets Mulan. Also, her sacrifice was very predictable, and personally I felt like it was a cheap way just to get rid of a powerful figure. It’s really quite sad. I do like the Witch character as a concept and I love seeing unorthodox female characters in movies, but the execution of what could have been a great character was butchered by the screenwriters.