Disney’s Live Action Mulan


Jane Wiebe, Writer

Disney just released a live action Mulan on Disney Plus on September 4, 2020.  It was directed by Niki Caro and starred Liu Yifei as the heroine Mulan. This movie tells the story of a young Chinese girl who dresses up as a man to take her father’s place in war.  It is based off of the 1998 animated movie by the same name.


Unlike many Disney remakes, Mulan is not a shot for shot remake of the original animated movie. However, the plot line of the 2020 film has stayed very close to that of the 1998 film.  In more detail, Hua Mulan (Liu Yifei) is a noble Chineses warrior’s daughter who finds no interest in becoming a proper lady whose only desire is marrying well. Instead, she aspires to be a fighter, like her father Hua Zhou (Tzi Ma) — and when the Emperor decrees that every family send a man to serve in the fight against northern invaders, she decides to disguise herself as a man, Hua Jun, to serve in place of her ailing father. 


Considering the plot is remarkably similar to the original movie, the new Mulan struggles to define itself beyond the many things removed from the new film. There is no presence of the beloved talking dragon Mushu.  This has left viewers missing Mulan’s hilarious companion.  Additionally, the musical numbers have all been removed from the 2020 Mulan. “I mean, back to the realism question – we don’t tend to break into song when we go to war. Not that I’m saying anything against the animation. The songs are brilliant, and if I could squeeze them in there, I would have. But we do honor the music from the animation in a very significant way,” stated Caro when explaining her reasoning for removing the music.  This has left viewers with an emotional gap that does not seem to be getting filled any other way. Caro argues that she wanted to achieve a level of realism in this movie that was not found in the 1998 version.  Also, Animated Mulan memorably cuts her hair and removes her makeup as she asks the question “When will my reflection show who I am inside?”  She then puts on her father’s armour and begins pretending to be a man.  These moments do not happen in the new film.  She does not even cut her hair, she simply places it up into a knot on the top of her head. Caro explained her reason for this was for Mulan to own her femininity as she lets her hair down and rides into battle.


Despite the removal of many key elements from the original movie, there are a few added characteristics.  To begin, as what seems to be a replacement for Mushu, there are a few appearances of a phoenix.  In the 1998 film, Mushu is sent by her ancestors to help guild Mulan through her journey.  In the new film this phoenix guides Mulan and helps her find her way on multiple occasions. The phoenix does not have any speaking lines or any direct interaction with Mulan making it debatable whether or not it is even considered a character.  In the animated film, Mulan had to face the menacing Shan-Yu and his hawk, but live-action Mulan is up against the frightening Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee) and a shapeshifting witch named Xian Lang (Gong Li).  The witch and Mulan possess many of the same abilities making their battle against one another that much more layered.  Both Mulan and the witch find themselves wanting to be accepted as powerful women in their communities.  The witch seems to be in support of the villain in this Disney film but, the viewer sees many layers of her unfold throughout the movie.  She shows much more of herself and her desires.  Through the film she also shows more of her similarities to Mulan.  Xian Lang is a new and different character who brings many new elements to the movie.

To sum it up, Disney’s new Mulan keeps the same general idea and plot of the original film but removes many of the key elements found in the animated version. The original movie was simply a heart-warming story of bravery and identity sharing strong femenist messages. However, the adaptation is an attempt to try many new things but forgets about the things that made the original so well loved.