I’ll just get this out of the way: the 2020 Disney live-action adaptation of “Mulan” is not worth the $30 on top of your Disney Plus subscription. But, if you gathered five friends in your living room, they could all pitch in five bucks and it would be like going to the movie theater.
Now that you know, let’s talk about it.
The live-action, like most Disney live-action films that mirror their animated predecessors, is way different from the 1998 “Mulan”. The 2020 “Mulan”, released Friday on Disney Plus, was met with high expectations from fans as they awaited their beloved Mushu, the lucky cricket and Grandmother Fa. Well, don’t get your hopes up because they are nowhere to be seen in the new film—not directly anyway.
I’ll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, but I can’t make any promises.
The live-action starts out with Mulan’s father, portrayed by Tzi Ma, narrating her early life, and how she has a powerful chi—yes ladies and gentlemen, Mulan, portrayed by Liu Yifei, in this adaptation has a powerful chi in which she can channel her inner magic to be the greatest warrior in all of China. The beginning is fairly straightforward. She’s a real tomboy with not a lot of girlie habits. But wait, Mulan has a sister? This is not a spoiler, because if you watched the trailer of the film, in this new adaptation, Mulan does in fact have a sister named Hua Xiu portrayed by Xana Tang. Hua Xiu is the second daughter of Hua Zhou and Hua Li.
In my opinion, Mulan’s sister has no other role in the film except for the fact that she’s Mulan’s somewhat random sibling. Hua Xiu has extreme Arachnophobia, and instead of the lucky cricket messing up Mulan’s matchmaker appointment, it is through the efforts of her sister and an ugly looking eight legged arachnid.
Following the animated film, the live-action then dives into the northern invaders coming to kill The Emperor of China. These northern invaders are accompanied by a…witch? The witch definitely throws off any hope for the live-action to somewhat resemble the animated movie.
After some story building, the movie quickly shifts its focus back to Mulan as she runs away from her home, family sword in hand, and joins the imperial army. She trains, gets her butt kicked, takes a dip in a lake and almost gets caught. She then fights in a battle in which she will reveal her true self to save her fellow soldiers. Obviously, she’s dishonored by her regiment and sent away in shame, only to come back and warn the general that the northern invaders have infiltrated the city—at least this mirrors the original story line.
You’ll have to watch the movie and decide for yourself if you can appreciate the ending, but even without Mushu, or the spunky Grandmother Fa, the 2020 live-action “Mulan” is not a disappointment. It does lack a great deal of story line from most of the characters, but it does bring in the famous trio of Li, Chien-Po and Yao. Disney did stay true to their comments earlier in 2019 when they said there would be no love interest in the 2020 live-action film. Li Shang does not exist, but is replaced with another soldier who does express subtle feelings towards Mulan, but just when you think there might be a spark of “something”, Mulan rides off, not giving the soldier another glace.
The live-action is far from perfect, but it has a lot of potential and can be appreciated by old and new audiences alike. There is no void in the hard work that was put into the film and the cast is stacked with stellar actresses and actors (with an original cameo for the older fans). While it’s not a musical, and it has virtually no comedic relief, it is worth watching. If you happen to have a bunch of movies lined up before hand though, audiences with regular subscriptions to Disney Plus can view “Mulan” with no additional cost on Dec. 4. If you can’t wait, get a watch party to chip in and enjoy some homemade (or store bought) popcorn. I think fans will be able to appreciate the retelling of the original “Mulan”, but don’t go into the movie thinking it will be a “reflection” of the original 1998 animated film.
Emilie Rodriguez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @emilieemeree.