On Friday, Disney finally released the long-anticipated and continually delayed live-action remake of “Mulan.” The original animated film is one of the Hollywood juggernaut’s crown jewels, so critics and fans alike were eagerly anticipating this new iteration.
Now that the film is finally here, that excitement has all but disappeared. “Mulan” is a huge disappointment.
Disney’s live-action remakes have made several social justice-inspired changes to their original animated films — “Beauty and the Beast” added LGBT characters, “Aladdin” made the titular character’s love interest a powerful feminist ruler and “The Lion King” arbitrarily decided to cast only black voice-actors, save for a select few characters.
None of these films were able to repeat the critical acclaim of their animated predecessors; “Mulan” was no different.
Playing to the #MeToo Movement
Many of the biggest changes made to this reinterpretation were meant to make the film more politically correct.
For example, one of the animated film’s lead characters, Mulan’s love interest Li Shang, was completely wiped from the new movie.
In the animated film, Shang is a mentor to Mulan as her superior in the army. Over the course of the film, a bond grows between the two and they fall in love with one another.
In light of the #MeToo movement, the “Mulan” filmmakers worried that Li Shang’s inclusion in the film would be inappropriate given the power dynamic between the two, despite the fact that Shang never uses his superiority to manipulate Mulan in the original movie.
“I think particularly in the time of the #MeToo movement, having a commanding officer that is also the sexual love interest was very uncomfortable and we didn’t think it was appropriate. And we thought that in a lot of ways that it was sort of justifying behavior of we’re doing everything we can to get out of our industry,” producer Jason Reed said.
Instead of including the character, Disney opted to replace him with Chen Honghui, a fellow soldier of Mulan’s who later becomes her love interest. While the specific dynamic between the seasoned veteran Shang and budding soldier Mulan in the original film brought many interesting elements to their relationship, the new film quashes that dynamic and replaces it with an uninteresting, cookie-cutter romance.
Individuality vs. Feminism
The original “Mulan” was a testament to individuality: Instead of saying that all women are equally as good at fighting as men, the message was that individuals, such as Mulan, should not be held back because of group stereotypes.
Just because the majority of men are physically stronger than the majority of women doesn’t mean that women cannot be soldiers. There are plenty of competent female combatants; they just aren’t the norm.
In the original “Mulan,” while the titular character does stand out for her masculine desire to fight for her people, she is also celebrated for her many feminine traits as well. In the end, it is her clever thinking and quick wit that allows her to defeat the bad guy and save China.
Instead of saying Mulan should take her place as a woman, or that she should be identical in every way to a man, the animated film praises Mulan for being her own person.
While the remake doesn’t go full-on raging feminist, it does subtly push the idea that the average woman is just as physically capable as the average man, which just isn’t true.
In addition to depicting Mulan as the greatest warrior in China, the movie also adds another female villain character.
This female villain, Xianniang, working alongside the movie’s antagonist, Bori Khan, is said to also be one of the greatest warriors in the country.
It is established early on in the film that Xianniang could easily kill Khan, which totally destroys his credibility as a competent bad guy by the time he and Mulan have their final duel.
The addition of Xianniang’s character is meant to mirror Mulan, but instead it just takes focus away from the title character’s development as a fully rounded female character.
Overall a Forgettable Experience
In addition to those changes, Disney completely ruined the charm and magic of the original film by making this new live-action remake more serious in tone.
One of the hallmarks of the animated Mulan is the musical numbers, which were all completely removed.
Mushu, the fan-favorite dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy, was replaced by a female phoenix that barely appears in the remake.
The rest of the characters are utterly bland. Mulan’s friends in the army each had distinctive personalities in the original, but for the most part they all blend together in Disney’s new movie.
Overall, if Disney had just been focused on recapturing the original film’s magic rather than kowtowing to social justice warriors, Mulan would have been much better off.
Unfortunately, Disney didn’t take this approach, resulting in what could have been an all-time great movie being completely forgettable.
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