Mulan (2020) is a bland remake that tarnishes a classic
By Nathan David
It has been over 22 years since the original animated Mulan hit theatres around the world. It combined action with the classic Disney princess movie aspects to make a film that appealed to a wide audience. But the recent live-action remake of Mulan, directed by Niki Caro, has many changes that differ from the original that are questionable, to say the least.
The film was originally set to release on March 9, 2020, but was ultimately postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Disney decided to take a different approach when releasing the film, instead choosing to start streaming it on their subscription-based streaming service Disney+ on September 4, 2020.
This approach had mixed results to say the least. Many people, including myself, wondered why it took Disney over half a year to start streaming the film when it was already set to be released in theatres. Some also criticized the $29.99 additional cost on top of the base price of Disney+, while others liked it as it was cheaper to pay the price instead of going to the theatre and buying three or more tickets. With that being said, let us go over the pros and cons of this film.
One major complaint I have of the live-action is the exclusion of the original songs from the animated version and singing. The songs are a huge part of the appeal and charm of the original. Excluding them from the movie and replacing them with instrumentals that are barely heard in the background makes this film seem like a stereotypical Chinese action movie.
While this is not entirely a bad thing, this film lacks the “Disney touch” that made Disney’s other films successful and memorable. The fact that other Disney princess live-action remakes such as Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast contain actual singing and songs from the original make the exclusion of them in this movie seem confusing.
Another gripe I have is the exclusion of memorable characters that were in the original. The deuteragonist (secondary main character) Mushu, a red serpent-like dragon of the original, is not present in the remake, instead being replaced by a phoenix that serves as the protector to Mulan. It’s almost akin to Disney removing the Genie in the live-action remake Aladdin, as Mushu also plays a big role in the original, offering comic relief to the audience while also protecting Mulan.
Replacing Mushu with another character that can also provide the same comic relief could have worked better for the movie, but it doesn’t help that the phoenix has no dialogue at all in the movie and barely shows up at all. This makes some scenes with Mulan boring, as there is no one but herself in the scene either talking to herself or looking off-frame into the distance instead of the comical and cheerful Mushu that made the original memorable.
Another character not present is Li Shang, the commander turned love interest to Mulan. The exclusion of Shang is not as harmful as Mushu’s, but it still makes a big impact. Shang is, in a way, separated into two characters, Commander Tung (Donnie Yen) and Honghui (Yoson An). Tung serves to be the commander side of Shang, training and disciplining Mulan, while Honghui serves as a friend to Mulan, however, the love interest part was cut.
While cutting this part seems like a minor change on paper, in reality, it was a huge one. In the original, having the love between Mulan and Shang was satisfying in the end, as it shows a lot of character development as the movie reaches its climax. However, at the end of the live-action version, Mulan only barely says goodbye to Honghui, which leaves a lot to be desired as I hoped they would develop into a different relationship instead of being the rival we are introduced to in the beginning. Without it, the movie lacks the “heart” the original had that made it memorable to many.
With all the cons of this film, there are still many pros that are not only impressive but also awe-inspiring.
One thing to note is the stunt and fight choreography that was beautifully done, especially in the end fight scene with Mulan and the main antagonist Bori Khan. While some of it makes no physical sense like, when the Emperor knocks out a few enemies with a silk banner, it makes the final scene, in particular, more suspenseful with them dueling on an off-balanced wooden plank.
Most of the protagonists’ fight scenes are done with a very fluid motion which makes them very satisfying like Mulan for example when she cleanly dodges all the fighting to get to the emperor near the end of the film. As said previously, while most of the fight scenes make no sense physically, it is visually appealing and just flat out awe-inspiring with the superhuman moves characters do.
Overall, the live-action remake of Mulan shares many characteristics with the original but lacks the charm and heart that made the original so memorable in the eyes of many. The plot and theme remains generally the same in both movies, it being a girl saving her homeland from enemy invaders. However, what stands out is the exclusion of key parts in the live-action version that made the original memorable, such as any of the classic musical numbers and the comedic relief. While not a bad movie, I personally wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it.
Featured Image (at the top of the page): Mulan (2020) and Mulan (1998), in similar poses. (Photo Credit: Disney)