Katie Ribbens – Staff Writer
For the first time, she is not silenced. For the first time, she is not suppressed. For the first time, she can show who she really is—a warrior.
Disney’s long-awaited live-action remake of the 1998 movie Mulan finally made its debut on September 4. Instead of showing in theatres, Disney+ subscribers can purchase the film for $30. You might be wondering if it’s worth watching, especially since Disney removed some of the beloved characters and musical numbers. I think it is.
Disney’s westernized, animated Mulan strayed from Chinese culture and values—the very thing the film aimed to represent. Director Niki Caro was careful to avoid repeating her predecessor’s mistakes. She took time to represent the values of Mulan’s honor-shame culture: bringing disgrace unto one’s family is a fate worse than death.
I felt the film did a wonderful job of balancing Mulan’s duty to bring honor to her family—something valued in Chinese culture— while remaining true to herself—something westernized cultures applaud. The audience can identify with Mulan as she traverses a difficult internal and external journey. Mulan wants to bring honor to her family, but the rigid gender roles make it difficult for her to find her place. Women bring honor by becoming wives while men bring honor by becoming warriors. Mulan longs to bring honor to her family by instead embracing her “chi”—the energy that the greatest warriors wield. There’s just one problem. Women are not allowed on the battlefield—a breach punishable by death.
The film is also very engaging to watch. I couldn’t tear my eyes from the breathtaking naturescapes throughout the movie. The cinematography is astounding. The colors, scenes, and angles are all deliberate. Nothing is done by accident. They even had a special camera lens created for the shots in which Mulan used her chi. Her sword also bears the writing of prized Chinese virtues: loyalty, bravery, truth—and, at the end of the movie, dedication to family. It provided a helpful visual for those unfamiliar with Chinese culture.
I think the reception of this live-action movie also lays in how well it fulfills the original 1998 animation. It’s not a musical. Characters are added and removed. I’m normally a stickler for storylines following the original, but in this case, I was pleasantly surprised. I think the changes added to the film as they stayed true to the overall message.
The songs and characters weren’t entirely removed, just reborn—another theme the movie repeatedly emphasizes. Familiar chords of those beloved songs, such as “Reflection,” guide the story. Instead of a literal cricket, we meet a sweet soldier boy with the namesake Cricket. The clever lyrics from “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” and “A Girl Worth Fighting For” are now delivered in dialogue. There’s even a twist in the romantic department. Sadly, Mushu, the wisecracking dragon, did not make it into the movie. Since Chinese culture honors the dragon, the silly sidekick was deemed too offensive.
As a detail-oriented person, I also appreciated that the movie did not brush over some of the perplexing subplots. Like, how can a woman truly disguise herself as a man? In the animated film, the lines of Mulan’s face become masculine as she dons a soldier’s attire—but that’s hard to replicate in real life. Additionally, the remake didn’t brush over the awkwardness of a sheltered girl entering an all-male camp. It was both humorous and enlightening to see how Mulan navigated the pitfalls of her decision.
Lastly, I loved the touch Disney added of having Mulan’s own father narrate the film. It once more emphasizes the importance of family, while balancing a potentially one- sided, feminist movie. We see how her father loves Mulan and wants her to strengthen her chi, but he also wants to protect her from the harsh reality of their culture’s values. He later blames himself for her running away, likely to her death; he felt that it was his fault for encouraging her early in life. Later, he is able to express both his love and pride for his warrior daughter.
Mulan is a great movie for all ages. It is tame enough for young children yet holds enough depth to keep the attention of older members of the audience. For fans of the original 1998 film, the remake is worth watching.