Mulan: A $30 Flop

Disney’s live action rendition of “Mulan” is drenched in the disappointment of 2020


Photo from Disney Mulan Media Kit

Disney’s recent release of the live-action remake of “Mulan,” directed by Niki Caro, follows 2020s major theme. Disappointment.
Although the film was initially set to premiere in March, it was pushed back due to COVID-19. With guidelines in place to stem COVID-19 infections, theaters had to close, which resulted in Disney releasing the film onto its streaming service, Disney Plus. Even though the film was long-awaited, it did not live up to its expectations.
The story of “Mulan” is about a girl who takes her father’s place serving in the imperial army by disguising herself as a man to battle northern invaders in China. Major themes within her story deal with sexism and overthrowing societal norms. She fights against tradition, her family’s expectations and the stereotypes of a woman’s role in the world.
Even though these themes were attempted in the live-action adaptation, they fell short when it came to projecting the message. Failure to translate these main themes has made the film forgettable.
The actress Liu Yifei’s portrayal of Mulan was dismal as she appeared unexpressive and emotionless throughout the film. Liu’s take on Mulan was disappointing as she was unsuccessful in capturing the essence of Mulan’s character; adventurous, ambitious, tenacious. Her acting appeared substandard since, visually, there was a disconnect between herself and the character she was playing. Liu did not fully embrace Mulan’s character, which led to her only giving a surface level interpretation.
With recreating a movie comes the inevitable comparison between the original and the new adaptation. Live-action remakes play on the nostalgia of the original animated film. This movie did include some recognizable key scenes included in Disney’s 1998 animated “Mulan,” but it has notable differences that created holes within the plot, distracting from the themes. Some characters were left out in the live-action adaptation, and some new characters were added, a change that some feel is unnecessary, further ruining the nostalgia that many had hoped to feel.
The live-action take is recreated in a serious approach with a dry storyline as it lacks comic relief. This may be partly due to the exclusion of characters like Mushu and Mulan’s grandmother from the animated version. With the addition of never before seen characters, we see them lack development throughout the film, ultimately making them irrelevant.
As opposed to the animated version, Mulan’s hard work and training she endured to earn the respect of her fellow soldiers was lost in the live-action remake. Instead, there was a confusing and poorly explained addition of “Ch’i,” one’s life force that includes abilities to fight for oneself. “Ch’i” in the movie portrayed qualities of bravery, physical skill and strength which are encouraged in men and meant to be hidden in women. In the live-action film, they show that Mulan’s “Ch’i” is what made her stronger and not her natural human abilities. Thus, it downplays Mulan’s hard work to become strong and show how a normal woman can do what a man can do. With this said, the additions and exclusions in this film were confusing and not purposeful. Not only did the live-action differ from the original, but it was bad all on its own since, it fell short in storytelling and delivering a clear message as well as a sense of nostalgia.
Despite the movie’s poor attempt on modernizing Mulan, the quality of the cinematography was undeniable. At the beginning of the film, bold, bright colors are present in clothing, makeup, and scenery. Strategic placement of the camera enhanced many shots throughout the movie and in high-intensity fight scenes. Multiple panoramic shots added emphasis to the beauty of stunning landscapes which caught the eye of viewers; however, the storytelling was inadequate to keep the viewers attention.
“Mulan” is a movie worth watching at least once just to be able to say you’ve seen it.