2020’s Mulan dishonored Mulan’s character

Claire Moylan, News Editor

Disney’s animated Mulan is a well-loved princess classic. Many look up to Mulan’s character because of her actions in the story. Disney’s 2020 live-action Mulan claimed to be a faithful retelling of the original folklore (to avoid another live-action remake). They removed the iconic soundtrack, boisterous Mushu and the beloved Shang for this purpose. Everyone was excited for this movie, but after watching it, everyone was completely dissatisfied. 

Mulan is a beloved character because of her underdog story. Throughout the animated movie Mulan demonstrates her wit and hard-working personality. She outsmarts the pole obstacle while training, wipes out the Hun army with an avalanche and defeats Shan Yu using a fireworks display. Mulan overcame the obstacles of patriarchal Chinese society and gained the respect of the Emperor, Chinese army and the rest of Chinese society by not trying to be something she’s not. 

2020’s Mulan heavy reliance on the animated film for context was highly visible with its lazy writing, robotic dialogue, boring soundtrack and Western interpretation of Chinese culture. Resultantly, many aspects of the movie were severely degraded, including Mulan’s character.  

The impact of Mulan’s story originates with the fact that she was accomplished despite being a normal girl. She strengthened her problem solving and physical skills in order to keep up with everyone else. However, with the introduction of chi in the live action, Mulan is no longer normal. According to the live action, everyone is born with chi, and they can train it in order to make it stronger. However, Mulan is a rare case of someone who has been blessed with strong chi since birth. As a result, she was always stronger and faster than everyone around her: a prodigy. Mulan has a leg-up on everyone else because her natural ability predetermined her success. All she does is embrace her true identity of being a powerful, inhuman female. While accepting oneself is important, Mulan 2020 fails to teach that hard work and perseverance are the pathway to success because Mulan never needed to grow like animated Mulan did. Her underdog story was completely erased. Instead, her strong chi implies that people can only succeed if they have a special talent. Hence why female characters who lack a strong chi, like her sister, end up in the patriarchal role assigned to her. A YouTube video, by Accented Cinema, titled “Mulan: A Case of Failed Empowerment | Video Essay,” put it this way: “Imagine you are a young girl with confidence issues. You watched Mulan 2020. Then, you go back to school, and you see other girls who are prettier than you [and] who are better at sports than you. Instead of saying you are just as capable with enough perseverance, [you say,] ‘No, they are Mulan, [and I am] just the sister now.’ Sorry, not everyone is special.” 

Furthermore, Mulan’s strong chi forced the movie to rely on physical strength and brute force, traits associated with masculinity. In the animated movie, what makes Mulan different from the rest of the men is she outsmarts her obstacles instead of tackling them head on. For example, Mulan and the rest of the army are tasked to climb a pole using two weights to get the arrow at the top. Everyone else attempts to climb the pole using their physicality, Mulan included, and the weights work against them. After figuring out how to use the weights to her advantage, Mulan is the first and only one seen to reach the top of the pole. Her impact on the others is seen when Yao, Ling, Chien-Po and Shang climb the palace columns using the same technique to help save the Emperor. Because the live action writer’s changed much of the storyline, Mulan didn’t have a chance to demonstrate traits other than brute strength. Instead of a pole, the trainees have to carry two buckets of water up a tall mountain without spilling a drop. There is no possible way to outsmart this exercise; deception in the camp was punishable by expulsion. The only way Mulan was able to conquer this task was by strengthening her chi, the ability that already made her better than everyone else. Mulan having strength isn’t the issue; the issue is that the only trait showcases is her physicality. This implies that Mulan was successful because she possessed the traditional maculine trait of being physically powerful. It teaches girls that they have to be equal to men in order to succeed rather than teaching girls that they should use and grow the skills they already have. 

The power behind Mulan’s character is that she’s not strong and tough like men. She is powerful because she utilizes her own skills to make herself successful. She taught her companions how to diversify their skills to accomplish tasks that can’t be conquered by brute force, seen when Chien-Po, Ling and Yao dress in drag to infiltrate the palace. Mulan 2020 attempted to uphold Mulan as a symbol for female empowerment, but its failure indulges masculinity instead. Disney completely degraded Mulan’s character and weakened the message of her story because they promised originality but were too scared to deviate from the animated film we all love.