Weekly Movie Review: ‘Mulan’ is a Disney remake that lacks excitement and plot stability


Mishal Nizar

Mulan is Disney’s new live-action remake that does not hold true to the original story tale.

Warning: Spoilers ahead.


We have all heard of the story, “Mulan.” The fearless young woman fought in the Imperial Army to protect her father. Throughout time, this story has been retold and was recently remade into a live-action film last Sept.. When the media held onto the news that “Mulan” would be remade, the hype started and fans were excited. Now that it has been out for a couple of months, I personally do not see the hype nor did I enjoy the film for various reasons. 

In the live-action film, the storyline follows a young woman named Hua Mulan, portrayed by Liu Yifei, who is adventurous and highly active. She visits her matchmaker, which did not go well. In the end, the matchmaker tells Mulan and her family that she could never be wed to a man and would bring dishonor to her family. While this is happening, the antagonist of the film, Bori Khan, played by Jason Scott Lee, assisted by a witch named Xian Lang, played by Gong Li, is slowly taking over China. In order to stop this, the Imperial Army asks for every family to draft one male to serve in the army. In Mulan’s family, the only man is her weak father, thus Mulan disguises herself in place of her father and joins the army for battle. Over a series of battles and her attempts to hide her identity, she defeats Bori Khan and declines the Emperor’s offer to join the Emperor’s guard.

Overall, the 2020 live-action film is a huge contrast in comparison to the 1998 animated version of “Mulan”. Several characters were omitted, the underlying morals were different, and the storyline was portrayed differently altogether.

First, as the film had taken away the iconic characters like Mushu, Mulan’s grandmother, and Cri-kee, I was disappointed. I was even more disappointed that they replaced them with Xian Lang, who is a witch fighting alongside Bori Khan. In a sense, she replaces Shan Yu as well as Bori Khan. The confusion does not stop there. Throughout the story, she shapeshifts and acts as a spy for Bori Khan. Yet over time, through her encounters with Mulan, Xian Lang attempts to convince her to turn to the antagonist side. In the end, Xian Lang turns over to the good side and helps Mulan defeat Bori Khan. Wow, now that is a lot of character development for someone who is not even the main character of the story. Personally, I see that she has more character development than Mulan herself and that is where that character growth aspect was missed in the film. I mean, the film is entitled “Mulan,” not Xian Lang. 

Although titled “Mulan,” it really does not feel that way. I mentioned that Mulan had little to no character progression, and that is solely because she already has the skills and strength to fight. In the scene where the Imperial Army is training, Mulan does not even struggle. She is already considered to be “better” than all the men, whilst in the 1998 animation, you see her struggle and you see her persevere into more than just her strength, but her brain to achieve all these difficult training tasks.

My question for Disney is where is the music? Where is “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” or “Reflection” from the original soundtrack? This is a silly reason for a critique, but then again, this is a Disney princess movie. Music scores, believe it or not, enhance films drastically. Without music, the vibe of “Mulan” is really different because the remake takes away that Disney feeling of fantasy and fairy tales.

The lack of character connection was very prevalent in the film. In the 2020 live-action remake, Mulan has a sister, and the only thing we really know about her is her fear of spiders, but how does that correlate with the story? It does not. There is also a phoenix who is introduced but whose storyline is never fully completed. They most likely had the right intentions of having everything connected, but it is just too complex to correlate everything.

There were many low points of the film that I found, but the cinematography was great. Niki Caro directed this film, and I think that she did an excellent job on the film aspect. However, I believe that it is hard to create “Mulan” when you do not have the Asian cultural knowledge to back that up, so I think that is where the film fell short in really capturing the legend of Hua Mulan.

I rate this movie a three out of ten because “Mulan” had the potential to be great. The morals are, cinematography, and acting is there, but what could have progressed it to be better was just to keep the same storyline. Yes, it is repetitive, but so are the live-action remakes of “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King,” and “Cinderella.” In my opinion, those other movies have succeeded in the aspects of remaking a story. The “Mulan” remake, however, follows a great message: Being a woman does not make you any less strong or less smart than men. That is what Mulan is all about, not all the extra characters or lacking aspects.