Over these past few years, Disney has tried to breathe new life back into its iconic animated films by making live-action remakes. Some of these movies include classic Disney stories, such as The Lion King, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and Alice in Wonderland. To some people, these rehashes are simple ways for Disney to make a profit, and are the farthest thing from an artistic rendition as possible. However, there are a large number of people who thoroughly enjoyed these reimaginings, and felt that they paid homage to the unbeatable originals.
The latest addition to this growing collection of remakes is Disney’s live-action Mulan. Mulan is based on a Chinese folk story of Fa Mulan, a young woman in ancient China who disguises herself as a man to fight in her father’s place against the Hun army. The live-action remake was released first on Disney’s new streaming service Disney + due to the ongoing Covid 19 pandemic. It is available to purchase for 30$ for “premier access”, and will be released for free on December 4. As far as the movie goes, critics gave it a 76% on Rotten Tomatoes, saying that it “could have told its classic story with greater depth”, but that the film is a “visual marvel that serves as a stirring update to its animated predecessor”. However, audiences seem to be split in half. Some say that even though it has some flaws, it is truly an amazing remake and serves its source material as well. Others would highly disagree, and say that this live-action rendition would make its predecessor hang its head in shame. One problem that most people seem to have with the film is the insane price required to watch it. Is the new Mulan worth 30$, and is it even worth watching at all? These were two questions burning in my mind as I began watching.
Within the first 20 minutes of the remake, I was able to tell whether or not it was worth paying the 30 dollars for “premier access.” Sadly, it definitely isn’t. Any appreciation I might have had was immediately overshadowed by disappointment when the pivotal scene, in which Mulan transforms into a man to take her father’s place, never arrived. In the original movie, this is a beautiful montage filled with emotion and determination, and shows the lengths Mulan will go to to break boundaries and save her father. This sequence has one of the most critical points in the movie, where Mulan cuts her hair to look more like a man. This powerful and important scene is completely ripped out, and is instead replaced with a scene that just leaves fans of the original with a sense of major disappointment. In the remake, Mulan is shown practicing with her father’s sword like in the original film, but we don’t see Mulan cutting her hair, we instead cut to see her donning her father’s armor. This might be due to the difficulty of actually cutting someone’s hair with a sword. The original had the advantage of animation, making this situation possible. The remake had the advantage of modern day technology, such as CGI, to achieve this massive feat, but it did not use this advantage. By doing so, the remake lost any and all of the impact and power the original movie provided.
There are many more things that make this movie a bad remake, but telling you all would take hours. One of the most notable pieces of criticism I can give is about the absence of music in the film. Originally, Mulan was a musical, filled with impactful and catchy songs that have lived on in fans hearts forever. It seems that in order to make the film seem more realistic, Disney decided to not include the original songs in the remake. This somewhat worked, but the songs were a crucial part to the story. Disney tried doing this sort of thing before with the Cinderella remake, and they actually pulled it off well. It seems that Disney grossly underestimated the impact of these songs. As a result, there was a gigantic hole in the movie that could only be filled with the emblematic songs I know and love.
However, I can’t criticize the film without mentioning its biggest flaw: the removal of Mushu and Li Shang. Before the movie was even released, fans were outraged with Disney over this decision. Mushu and Li Shang, two of the most well known characters in Disney history, were not going to be included in the remake. Li Shang was Mulan’s commander and love interest in the movie, and is one of the most iconic Disney princes. So what was Disney’s reasoning for removing him from the remake? According to producer Jason Reed, “I think particularly in the time of the #MeToo movement, having a commanding officer that is also the love interest was very uncomfortable and we didn’t think it was appropriate.” Fans immediately called this reasoning out, saying that not only did it not make sense, but that it was making actual victims of this movement seem ridiculous. @bangtanimosity on Twitter says “The Me Too reasoning is so stupid too, it makes the actual victims of the movement look like jokes because Li Shang didn’t even do anything wrong!” The reasoning for Mushu’s removal from the movie was no better. According to director Niki Caro, they removed Mulan’s loveable dragon guardian because they wanted to “commit to the realism of her journey”. This explanation makes some sense, but they still removed one of the best parts of the movie. Mushu was the comic relief of the, and made the movie more whimsical and fun. Fans expressed their disappointment in Disney for this too. @MrRiddler6 on Twitter said “This film will be a flop. No not because it’s a remake, no not because it’s a female lead film, its because there’s no Mushu #wheresmushu” When I heard about this decision, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would affect the movie as a whole. I eventually got the answer to my question, which was a big, whopping “yes.” Without these characters, it doesn’t feel like Mulan. We do have some comic relief in Yao, Ling and Chien Po, Mulan’s friends that were also characters in the original, but it felt like the massive weight of being the comic relief made them fall and fall hard. I felt like we were relying too much on these characters, and that I would’ve felt different if we had Mushu. These characters were simply too important to take out.
So is there anything about this movie that makes it worth watching? After finishing it, I would say that there are some major positives in this movie as well. One of the most notable praises I can give is to the beautiful cinematography. The gorgeous cinematic shots and incredible fight scenes made the film more bearable to watch. Another thing that made me enjoy it is Ming Na Wen’s short cameo. Ming Na Wen was the voice of Mulan in the original movie, and seeing her there showed me that the filmmakers had at least SOME level of respect for the source material. Unfortunately, the bad grossly overshadows the good.
After digesting both the positive and negative aspects, is this film really worth the 30$? I say no. It deviates too much from the original, and tries too much to be something that it’s not. But is it worth watching? Yes. It’s filled with captivating visuals and pretty awesome fight scenes, and is worth waiting until December 4th to watch for free. If I had anything to say to Disney right now, I would use the words of the immortal Mushu; “Dishonor on you, dishonor on your family, dishonor on your cow!”