The Mulan Remake: Success or Failure?

The Mulan Remake: Success or Failure?

Grace Hwang

Disney’s original Mulan has always been a fan favorite, and initially, the feedback for Disney’s live-action remake was positive. However, controversy was sparked after lead actress Liu Yifei expressed public support for the Hong Kong police. Many suggested boycotting the movie, and the film gained additional backlash when the ending credits thanked eight government organizations in China’s Xinjiang Province, the site of multiple indoctrination camps.

But even with these naysayers and the negative reception, is the film still worth watching?

If you are expecting to watch a practical copy of Disney’s original Mulan but with live action, similar to Disney’s 2019 Lion King, then your expectations will fall flat- Mulan is a true remake, with significant changes to plot and characters. One of the most significant changes was the idea of “chi”, which was meant to make the film more appealing to Chinese audiences, but was ultimately more of a hindrance than a help. It was poorly explained and executed, especially since the uses of chi varied between characters (and sometimes changed within a single character).

New characters were also added, and old characters were taken out. The additional characters – one in particular – made a powerful impression with a thorough character arc that ended in an unexpected, but satisfying, way. The removal of the old characters, however, was detrimental to the film; it dismissed characters that brought so much joy and humor into their roles and replaced them with nameless caricatures and paintings. 

The characters and the acting both contributed to the overall flat tone of the movie; the acting made the characters seem like paper cut-out dolls walking across the screen. There was no life in the film, and any attempts at humor fell short. The movie lacks the charming and whimsical feel of the original Mulan, and while it could be argued that this movie’s more serious tone is more realistic, it does not make up for the lower excitement and the lack of real stakes that the movie presents.

The lack of excitement and stakes can be attributed to Mulan’s role in the film. All of the characters except Mulan, the new addition, and the main villain can be removed, and the movie would still make sense.

Why? Because this movie is all about Mulan, which it should be… to an extent. But instead of adding to the story as a whole, Mulan acts as the only reason for the story to exist. Audiences do not fear for Mulan’s life because they know that she will prevail — she must prevail because she is the center of the universe; all others, including the main villain, revolve around her. The other characters –except the new addition– exist only to make Mulan have social interactions and reasons to fight. They do not have fully fleshed-out arcs and personalities, and while the original movie did not make every character a thorough masterpiece, they included more lifelike characters. Mulan herself had more zeal and emotion in the original movie than in this remake.

This general shortcoming in most characters is what makes the new character unique and interesting to watch- she serves an actual purpose by helping Mulan embrace her true identity and find her inner strength, bringing out human emotions in an otherwise stoic performance.

The graphics in this movie are breathtaking, even though most of the characters are not. They paint a vivid picture of Ancient China and are probably the highlight of the movie.

The soundtrack is another story. There were many removals of different songs, and instead, those lyrics and motifs were incorporated into dialogue and tiny sections of the score. There is a “Reflection” motif that is played whenever Mulan’s character further develops, and while this indeed lends power to the moment, it could have been far more meaningful. At the very end of the movie, “Reflection” is sung, but new lyrics and pitch dips are added, detracting from the beauty and emotion in the original song. 

Overall, Disney’s new Mulan was okay for a stand-alone film, but it did not do the original movie justice. It had some moments and a fabulous character addition, but these did not outweigh the many flaws present in the film.