What’s up with the live-action Mulan?


Art by Emma Inge

Emma Inge and Taylor Rosenberry, Staff Writers

After being released on Disney+ on September 4th, the live-action movie Mulan has spared many mixed opinions. With an estimated budget of $200 million, and a minority-heavy cast, it would seem like this movie would be a major success. Yet, it hit the box office with 75% on rotten tomatoes, but with only a 50% audience score. Similarly, it got a 2.5/5 rating on Letterboxd.


Lead actress backs Hong Kong Police

Hong Kong police have been long accused of using excessive force on those who peacefully protest against the regime of the Chinese Communist Party. 

Liu Yifei, the actress playing Mulan, signaled her support for Hong Kong police over a year before the film was due to be released. Yifei’s character, Mulan, stands for those who challenge tradition in pursuit of a more righteous path. 

By supporting Hong Kong police, Yifei sent a message that she goes against some of the most important themes traditionally conveyed in Mulan: loyalty, bravery, and truth. 

In response to Yifei’s stance, Hong Kong protestors appointed Agnes Chow, a Chinese activist, as the citizen’s choice for Mulan. In other words, Chow became a local hero who actually stood for loyalty, bravery, and truth. 

The Tea is in the credits:

When the movie made its small screen debut back in September, several Chinese Communist party agencies were thanked in the credits. Eight of these agencies are involved in the “re-education programs” for Uighur Muslims. 

Though the Chinese Government defines them as “re-education programs,” the conditions Uighur Muslims face is more akin to concentration camps, where Uighurs face severe daily mistreatment and human rights abuses. 

Some of the groups included in the credits have been placed on the Entity List in the US that prevents them from buying US technology. 

Changes in animation from a crew that lacks diversity:

In the original movie, critics complained that the western animation style was problematic. Their main plea: the film should pay honor to the culture with a more traditional animation style. 

Disney announced the live-action Mulan would strive for a more accurate depiction of the Chinese folktale. While their intentions seem to be pointed in the right direction, the set of Mulan was void of Chinese writers, costume designers, and art directors. 

In other words, the cast was extremely diverse, the crew was not

The Mulan crew was in fact, predominantly white.

Ultimately, this is a true reflection of the film industry. Minorities make up only 15% of directors (in 2019) and 7.8% of writers (in 2017). This results in the appearance of a diverse Hollywood through diverse actors, but in reality, these large film corporations are not addressing the big problem.

Missing characters:

But, when it came out, not only was the film missing several characters, but it lacked all of the music that made its animated companion so popular. 

This resulted in a missed opportunity to show Mulan’s emotions that cannot be shown through fight scenes. During moments of Mulan’s character change, the original song Reflection plays as instrumentals, it is not as impactful as if it were sung.

Reed also cut appearances of Mulan’s signature companions, Mushu, and cricket. Li Shang the love interest and army general did not make an appearance either.

Instead, Disney chose to change the love interest to Hongwei, a fellow soldier. Hongwei’s character was only explored in the last 10 minutes. An insignificant amount of screentime compared to Li Shang in the original animated version.

It is hard not to compare the live-action to the animated version. However, with the lack of Mushu and the cricket, this takes out an enormous comedic aspect, leaving room for a serious tone to set in.

Changes made from the animation:

Ultimately, this begs the question, why were the live-action’s of Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin a musical but not Mulan? The songs were just (or more) popular than several other Disney movies, so what makes Mulan so different? 

Producer Jason Reed pointed out that breaking out into song would take away from the tension of the movie and would take away from the ‘realness’ of the movie. Mulan’s story is much more realistic than Beauty and the Beast, but if Disney truly wanted to be realistic, then Disney should’ve hired more Chinese crewmembers to create a more historically and culturally accurate setting. 

Mulan’s story is much more realistic than Beauty and the Beast, but if Disney truly wanted to be realistic, then Disney should’ve hired more Chinese crewmembers to create a more historically and culturally accurate setting.

Major themes and Feminism:

The main themes throughout the film were the tagline Loyal, brave, and true, the symbol of the phoenix, and the power of chi. 

A moral message is something that Disney always has within their films. Similar to the use of chi, which is described as “something everyone has” throughout the movie is similar to many messages that Disney has incorporated into their other movies. 

The phoenix reflects the transformation that Mulan goes through in the middle of the film as she leaves herself behind- one that was keeping her chi hidden, and changing to accept her true self. 

Writer Angie Tian Tian for the Cold Tea Collective wrote, “Blessed with the gift of chi, Mulan is then automatically elevated to the same status as a man, thus making her the heroine.” She goes on to describe how this status is similar to the ‘cool girl’ trope in many romantic comedies. 

This seems to be a common occurrence throughout the film, that Mulan is living in a ‘man’s world’, and always being compared to a man’s abilities. When Mulan finally accepts her true self, she lets down her hair, taking off her forearm armor to go fight the enemy. 

Overall thoughts:

Mulan seemed like a half-assed version of the animation. Many things our generation enjoyed about the original were taken out in the live-action. 

By removing singing and Mulan’s companion characters in an attempt to make the story more ‘real’, Disney seemed to take the fun out of a Disney movie, something that almost feels essential. 

The heavy Asian cast was supposed to be progressive but felt rather surface level. The lack of diversity within the crew only continues to show Hollywood’s real issues. 

Additionally, with so many ties connected to the Chinese government and the need for profit, Disney’s movie felt more insensitive and unethical. It seems ironic that a movie with the tagline, Loyal, brave, and true, was the message of the movie but doesn’t seem to match the corporation’s actions. 

Although this creates some nice shots, it is still bothersome that she has to have her hair down (and styled perfectly), instead of having a practical hairstyle, just to remind the audience that she can fight but is still feminine.

In turn, without singing and comedy brakes, it ultimately left the live-action too serious and unemotional (for a kids movie), and doesn’t seem to fit the morals that Disney commonly prides themselves on.