The live-action version of Disney's animated classic, Mulan, is now available on the Disney + streaming platform, but what differences does it have compared to the animated version?
The new live-action version of Disney's Mulan that just premiered on Disney + and can be seen paying a supplement on the platform, is easily one of the best live-action adaptations of one of your beloved animated classics. It's an incredible historical action movie, packed with great photography and great acting. And unlike other live-action remakes like Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King, it strays from the original material at several key moments in the story.
Here are some of the most notable differences between the animated film Mulan (1998) and this live action remake. And these are the most important changes. For example, while almost all the characters have a different, more authentically Chinese name, they are essentially the same from the original film (Shan Yu, for example, becomes Bori Khan, but other than that, they are practically identical).
When the film is released, we are greeted by the familiar gleaming Disney logo, the original film had the more traditional 2D Walt Disney Pictures logo from that period. But this time the castle is different. A movie-specific castle is not that rare in the company's filmography and international Disney fans will no doubt instantly recognize the castle that appears before Mulan. It's the Castle of Enchanted Tales, the gigantic visual centerpiece of Shanghai Disneyland. Of course, this is highly symbolic and synergistic: Shanghai Disneyland Park is Disney's first park in mainland China and cemented the company's position in the Middle Kingdom. Former Disney CEO and current chairman Bob Iger had made the Shanghai Disneyland project a cornerstone of his tenure; it was a long and painful process that took a very long time to get approved and built. Mulan is another expression of Disney's courtship with China. When the original film was released in 1998 it was rejected as "too western" and did not have a large box office. This new Mulan movie was explicitly created to woo Chinese audiences. And a great way to do that is to start the movie with a symbol everyone now knows - the miraculous castle at Shanghai Disneyland.
In 2017, it was revealed that this new Mulan was not going to feature any of Matthew Wilder and David Zippel's songs, including "Reflection," "Honor to Us All," and "Hare un hombre de ti." And that turned out to be true - there are no songs in the live action version. But that does not mean that there are no references to the songs, both in the Harry Gregson-Williams score and in the dialogues of Mulan and other characters. Also Christina Aguilera, who sang the pop version of “Reflection”, has an updated version in the credits supervised by Wilder along with a new rather catchy tune called “Loyal Brave True”, which contains instrumentation from the Gregson-Williams score. . So while the songs may have disappeared from the movie, they are far from being forgotten.
Mulan has a sister
This is a relatively minor change, but it is quite curious: in the animated version, Mulan had a dog named Brother. In the new movie, Mulan has a little sister. Her name is Hua Xiu played by Xana Tang and she is afraid of spiders. Giving Mulan a sister doesn't add much to the story, but it does reinforce the movie's sisterhood themes. The character of the grandmother, played by June Foray, has also been removed. The sister's character also adds a bit of family conflict, as she too could have posed as a soldier just as easily as Mulan and gone off to fight on her father's steed.
Don't bring back Mushu, the wise dragon with the voice of Eddie murphy has been the subject of debate by many fans of the original film. While the character is hilarious and offers unexpected emotion, having his voice played by a non-Asian character is clearly problematic, and while his design is striking and evocative of the calligraphic aesthetic that the entire film employs, he could easily be the mascot of a chain of culturally insensitive Chinese fast food restaurants. The creators of the Mulan remake replaced it with something sleeker and more abstract: a phoenix.
The phoenix is the symbol of the family and follows Mulan but interacts as openly as Mushu did in the original film, although he does guide Mulan at times when she needs it. And no, the phoenix doesn't speak either.
Mulan doesn't cut her hair
In the sequence in which Mulan steals her father's armor and sword to head into battle, there are some notable similarities between the animated film and the live-action remake, including, in particular, that she left her jade hairpin for let her family know it was her. But there is one key and crucial difference: Mulan doesn't cut her hair. In the 2020 version, Mulan simply ties herself into a bun. Not only is this not so dramatically satisfying, it is also not as visually powerful and the powerful track “Mulan’s Decision” composed by Goldsmith is missing. However the decision not to cut Mulan's hair leads to a genius moment later when, in the heat of battle, Mulan decides to shed the costume, removing the knot that ties her hair that flows brilliantly on the battlefield.
Cricket is now a human
Mulan's animated inhuman friends sadly weren't brought into the animated version, but the strangest moment is when a character, who looks and sounds a lot like Chien-Po from the original film, introduces himself as Cricket. He even mentions that it is because he is "lucky", a character trait assigned to crickets in Eastern cultures and what sets Mulan's partner Cri-kee apart. Why couldn't they just give Mulan another cricket? turning the cricket character into a human is kind of weird.
All the cast members are Asian
In the original 1998 version of Mulan, the Asian characters were played by a mix of ethnicities that included, unfortunately, the very white. Harvey Fierstein, a deep-voiced Broadway veteran, plays one of Mulan's fellow soldiers, or Miguel Ferrer, George Clooney's cousin, played Shan Yu, Han's invading villain. Less offensive, but still quite unthinkable in this era It is the fact that many Japanese actors played Chinese characters, including the American-born but Japanese descendant Pat Morita who played the Emperor of China and George Takei as one of Mulan's most evil ghostly ancestors. This new Mulan is a lot more rigid when it comes to her Chinese cast, including legends like Gong Li, Jet Li, and Donnie Yen; And that authenticity contributes greatly to the realism and credibility of the film. In addition, it features the cameo of the original Mulan Ming-Na Wen herself.
This is actually one of the most important changes in the movie and it's one that could easily be overlooked. In the original movie, you had the impression that she was a free spirit and probably an athlete, but when she joins the military, she has to go through the same basic training and develop into a great leader. She excels and surpasses all of her peers. But she undergoes a physical, mental, and spiritual change that serves as the backbone of the film and makes her accomplishments towards the end of the film even more impressive.
In the live action version the new Mulan, beginning with a flashback from her childhood, makes it clear that she is something of a freak. It has a very strong connection to qi, which in this movie is defined and treated as The Force in Star Wars. Some people have a very strong connection. Others do not. Mulan definitely has it. There is a sequence in the movie where she is trying to take some chickens to the family henhouse. Jump off the roof and fly backwards with almost superhuman agility. Mulan's arc finding herself at zero and having to physically rebuild herself while keeping her secret disappears. She is a superstar from day one and does things in practice and on the battlefield that no one else can. While there are some cool things about this idea, it takes away from Mulan her most dramatic bow; she is just fabulous all the time. There is a certain power in your natural empowerment.
There is a witch now
In an awkward parallel to the latest Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie, it revealed that Voldemort's pet snake Nagini was actually an Asian woman. In the new Mulan, Shan Yu's understudy Bori Khan, who also features a hawk, is actually a witch named Xian Lang (played by Gong Li). While this change gives the film a more visual touch, as Xian Lang transforms in and out of his bird state and does other cool things, it's a pretty odd choice. Eventually, it is revealed that the witch, like Mulan, had very strong Qi, but her village turned her into an outcast and her feelings of vengeance and anger consumed her. She also has a very unhealthy relationship with Bori Khan, who treats her like a pet even though her own power considerably dwarfs his. The connection between Xian Lang and Mulan is fascinating to be sure, but it is not explored to the extent one imagines. Did the hawk really have to be a witch?
Mulan is now available to watch thanks to Disney + Premier Access.
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