As a Disney fangirl, you would think I would be jumping for joy over all of the new live-action Disney remakes the House of Mouse has been pumping out for the past couple of years. I may have been excited for them when it was still a fresh idea but, as the number of them rolled off the assembly line, I slowly but surely grew tired of them. To me, what was the point of making live-action versions of their animated classics if they just copy the original versions and not add anything of substance to warrant their existence.
This was not the same reaction I got when Disney announced Mulan. I think the original animated film was fine but it wasn’t anything special. However, this new version of the Mulan tale was going to be much more different than its predecessor since it was going to be a more serious take on the Chinese ballad. No guardian spirit dragons or musical numbers involved! That piqued my interest quite a bit.
Of course, thanks to the entire situation the world is in right now, I wasn’t expecting to see it this year… but I did! I have a friend who’s kind of obsessed by the original animated film and it just so happens she has a sneaky way of connecting to Disney+ from all the way in the Philippines. She actually paid for the Disney+ subscription on top of the $30 to watch the new Mulan and she asked me to go watch it with her. How could I say no?
After watching the entire film, we both turned to each other with the same kind of grimace on our faces. Okay, maybe hers was a little bit more extreme than mine but, just by the look on our faces, it was obvious we both didn’t like it. The weird thing is we had the same main reason for not liking it.
It wasn’t the lack of humor, no Eddie Murphy speaking dragon or the absence of catchy musical numbers. The biggest reason why we both disliked this new live-action version of Mulan is was Disney did with the main character. We didn’t like what they did with Mulan herself.
The reason? They chose to give Mulan “superpowers.” They can call it “qi” all they want but it’s just giving her superpowers right from the start.
The reason why my friend and I hated this change is it reduces Mulan’s character growth and makes us, the viewers, less fearful for her. Right from the start of the film, we get this long winded narration of Mulan’s father explaining she has excellent control over her qi. This gives her almost superhuman abilities as a child like jumping to rooftops and falling from great heights without being injured.
As expected, this is frowned upon because Mulan is a girl and not a boy. They basically explain how controlling qi is more of a “boy activity” and not a “girl activity.” So she’s told to hide her ability because she’s a girl. This is Disney basically doing the entire “a girl can do the same things a boy can do” but not really. In fact, it’s a little bit more extreme as, in the movie, not even boys can control qi as good as Mulan can!
So, in essence, Mulan is better than most boys. This makes Mulan special, yes. However, it also makes her less identifiable for young girls who are supposed to be inspired by this versio of Mulan. Okay, at the start, they do show a brief glimpse of her father training her in martial arts so she can control her power. This just means she’s already adept at fighting when she conscripts herself in the army.
This is much different from the Disney animated version of the Mulan story. It does have the same general story. China is drafting as many able bodied men into the army to face off an invading army. Mulan’s father is already too old by this time so Mulan disguises herself as a boy and enlists herself. She does well in a battle but it found out, bringing disgrace to her family. She discovers a plot to kill the Emperor and manages to save him, bringing honor back to her name and family. Giving Mulan “superpowers” in the live-action film, however, reduces Mulan’s risk of joining the army.
In the original Disney animated film, Mulan is a tomboyish and clumsy girl, lacking the grace necessary to be desired by matchmakers. She’s too rough around the edges and she can’t really figure out what’s wrong with her. The call to arms comes to her town and, in order to save her father, she disguises herself as a male and joins. There’s already a risk of her being discovered as a female as the lie will not only bring dishonor to her family. It will also mean her death.
What makes the risk even greater is she doesn’t know how to fight! I already mentioned she’s depicted as clumsy and have a smidgen of fighting ability, which should be a death sentence for anyone going into battle. She just knows she’s not like most girls and she even feels like a disappointment to her parents. If she even does try to conform to her parent’s wishes, she just wouldn’t be herself, which is even more confusing for her. This is encapsulated in the song “Reflections,” which just so happens to be the main theme song of Mulan.
Even though she knows this, Mulan knows she can’t allow her father to go into battle. She’s still willing to take his place to save her father. She is basically offering herself up to certain death in order to save someone she loves. That already is something to admire.
Things get even better when she does start training in the army. She does get some training in the art of fighting but it doesn’t come easy. Mulan may have successfully deceived everyone she’s a boy but she’s still bullied. As time passes and her training continues, Mulan does become a formidable fighter and is accepted by her group. This entire sequence is told during the extremely catching “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” song. I mean, admit it: whenever you hear the phrase “let’s get down to business,” you quietly start humming “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” in your head, don’t you?
This is actually an important part of Mulan’s development as a character as it shows growth. You see Mulan and the rest of the new recruits struggle to actually make it and it’s inspiring to see her, not only match the same level as the male recruits, but also realize where she was at the start and where she ended up. It shows little girls (and boys) that, with enough practice, hard work and dedication, you can do things you couldn’t do before.
This, to me anyway, one of the lessons that the animated Mulan taught young people. She wasn’t born with an innate ability to fight nor control over some mysterious force. She had to work hard to get it! This is in stark contrast to the live-action version and, considering it was made by the very same company which made the animated film, it boggles the mind why they would botch this up so royally!
It may seem like both versions of Mulan are telling the same lesson of being okay with who you are inside and not conforming to the role society tells you to follow and, frankly, they are. However, the message is lost in the live-action version since it’s so much easier to be proud of who you are when you have cool powers and abilities! The animated Mulan shows you can do the same thing and work on yourself as well to become a better version of yourself!
I do look at the critic scores for the new Mulan and I understand why critics are giving it high marks. The cinematography is good and the acting is well above average for everyone involved. However, the decision to give this version of Mulan supernatural control over he qi was terrible and it does ruin the emotional moment of when she reveals she’s not a he.
Maybe I would’ve liked this version if I hadn’t seen the animated version of Mulan. Still, both movies are out there so, in my opinion and you want to have your kids watch one of them, pick the “dated” animated version. It tells a better lesson and, like I said, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” is super catchy!
Which version of Mulan was better in your opinion? The animated version of the live-action one? Let me know in the comments section below!