Is the Live Action Adaptation of Mulan Worth $37 Dollars?


Photo Credit: (Walt Disney Pictures / Compilation by Luiza Decenzi)

As of September 14th, the 2020 live action adaptation of Mulan secured a 75% critic score on rotten tomatoes but disappointed many fans, amassing only a 51% audience score.

Luiza Decenzi, Editor-in-Chief

The 1998 Walt Disney Pictures musical animation of the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan has long been praised for its quality animation, plot, characters, and soundtrack. “Mulan,” titled after the main character, continued on to a sequel “Mulan II” (2004), albeit it didn’t receive the admiration of critics. Regardless of the latter’s failure, its precedent was hailed for feminist themes and values of honor, courage, family, and patriotism. It wasn’t surprising to see that the announcement of a live-action adaptation of the film secured much attention and speculation. 

After several complications in release schedule, the live action Mulan was released for Disney Plus subscribers on September 4th, 2020. However, there was a small catch. On top of the $6.99 monthly subscription to the streaming service, one has to pay a one time fee of $29.99 to unlock premier access. Otherwise, Mulan will be accessible to all Disney Plus users on December 4th. The real question here is: Should people spend 30 dollars on this movie?

One thing I can say for certain is to not expect a simple remake of the beloved animated film. For starters, not only has its musical component been stripped from its devoted audience, but the background music is simplistic and fails to enhance the strongest scenes. 

The astonishing cinematography and use of colors only hides the poor execution of the retelling. The movie itself should’ve been promoted as a complete reinterpretation of the core plot, rather than a simple live action remake of an animation. Esteemed original characters such as Musho, Grandmother Fa, and commander Li Shang are missing altogether from the action. 

In their place are new characters bound to entirely new subplots. Chen Honghui, a military recruit, along with Commander Tung, a high ranking leader of the Imperial Army, replace Li Shang in the retelling. The former as the romantic interest and the latter as Mulan’s mentor. Hua Xiu, Mulan’s younger sister, was advertised as an addition to the emotional component of the movie. However, the strongest family scenes were often carried by Mulan’s father and nostalgic fans feel betrayed by the disappearance of Grandmother Fa’s sharp wit. Most importantly, Xian Lang, a shapeshifting witch and ally of Bori Khan, was added to the cast, creating an entirely new subplot with the vital and natural force of “qi”, also written as “Ch’i”, stemming from traditional Chinese culture.

I can’t say much regarding the resemblance to the original legend of Mulan, especially given different adaptations through the years. The problem is that the constant reference to the power of qi is only regarded towards the two women warriors. Instead of symbolizing gender equality, Mulan and Xian Lang’s scenes take away some of the original feminist hallmark. 

It’s not that the movie is misogynist, because it is not. But the issue lies with the fact that the innate power is only mentioned when the two women are on screen. Instead of the iconic montage of Mulan’s hard work paying off in training, she is portrayed as having an intrinsic force within her since childhood that others don’t have. 

As a 1998 Disney animation, Mulan was one of the few movies small girls could look up to and dream of their future. The new subplot of the live action narration obscured the initial bona fide theme of gender equality and hard work. In its place was a message of sort of “ability elitism,” representative of only those special enough to have natural talent. 

Regardless of the changes, the verdict is simple. The 2020 remake of Mulan is worth it only if one can separate the modern adaptation to the 1998 film. It is a truly beautiful movie consisting of an incredibly talented cast. For those concerned about the costly charge, I have one piece of advice. A ticket to watch it at a movie theater would have roughly cost about $10, as long as you watch it more than three times, or three people watch it with you, your purchase will be worthwhile.