Let’s Get Down to Buisness

the definitive Mulan(2020) review


Hannah McCrory, Feature Editor

When China is under threat of northern invaders, a young woman disguises herself as a man in order to save her ailing father from serving in the military. Mulan (2020) is a remake of the 1998 Disney film of the same name, which was based on a Chinese legend. While Mulan (2020) closely follows the basis of the beloved animated classic, it still differs in many ways, causing it to be an almost completely different movie. 



Some of the main differences that immediately become apparent in the live-action film are the addition of a focus on Qi. Qi is the basis of Chinese medicine and philosophy and incorporates the idea of a circulating life force. In the live-action film, Mulan is born with a naturally strong Qi, causing her to have special abilities such as superhuman agility. However, in the patriarchal society of ancient China, this ability is discouraged and highly frowned upon in women. This addition becomes especially important later in the film, as instead of having to work and train to become a warrior, Mulan essentially already is a warrior. 


Another significant change was the removal of the character of Mushu. Mushu, voiced by Eddie Murphy, was a small dragon spirit who helped Mulan along her journey. Mushu brought comic relief, keeping the 1998 film light in between the serious scenes of war and destruction. Mushu’s replacement is a Phoenix spirit that

Mulan poses with the Phoenix behind her

hat is extensively talked about throughout the film. Many characters stress the importance of and power of the phoenix spirit, setting it up to be an extremely powerful addition to the cast. However, the spirit is revealed to be what looks like a badly animated CGI kite. The Phoenix does little in the movie other than show up to look inspiring.



One of the changes that I think was one of the most evident was the lack of music. While Mulan(2020) still has a beautiful soundtrack, it lacks the

The bright and joyful visuals of A Girl Worth Fighting For

musical aspect of the original. The songs of the 1998 film were able to convey emotion while still giving the film a light-hearted feel. Reflection (sung by Lea Salonga), is a perfect example of the classic “I Want” song, creating a perfect foundation for Mulan’s character arc. A Girl Worth Fighting For helped to create one of the most profound demonstrations of warfare by setting up a moment of tonal whiplash. The transition from the bright visuals and cheerful vocals to the destroyed village allowed viewers to truly see the cost of war without ever showing a dead body.


The dark war scene directly after a Girl Worth Fighting For

The soundtrack of Mulan(2020) has pieces that reflect the animated film’s soundtrack, but these instrumentals never truly capture the impact of the original’s music. Disney’s reasoning for removing the music was to create a more serious and accurate depiction of Chinese culture, but instead, it sucked all of the life and impact of the original. This shows what the true issue of 2020’s Mulan is, a lack of life and emotion. 




A FILM WORTH FIGHTING FOR (NOT)-breaking down a disaster 

So far, this review has compared Mulan (2020) heavily to the original, but even by considering Mulan(2020) as a stand-alone film, it still is not a very good movie. Long monologues about Qi and the Phoenix spirit kill any semblance of action or excitement in this film. Mulan and her love interest, Chen Honghui have barely any chemistry and their interactions felt forced.

Mulan during Training

Mulan’s companions, Ling, Chen-Po, Yao, and Cricket (I’m serious his name is literally cricket) go from enemies to friends in .5 seconds. Overall, the characters of Mulan(2020) have little to no development or character motivations. The characters just felt like emotionless husks, with no dreams, motivation, or growth. 

Disney, who put a large focus on the serious nature and historical accuracy of the film still failed to live up to these expectations. Many of the costumes and architecture are from different time periods, and according to Chinese viewers, Qi was portrayed incorrectly. For a movie that was supposed to feel realistic, Disney made interesting choices such as the introduction of the witch, Xian Lang. 

Xian Lang- played by Gong Li

Xian Lang is a woman who is also strong in Qi, but unlike Mulan harnesses her powers to become a witch of sorts. Xian Lang can turn into a hawk or swarm of birds at will as well as possess other humans. This addition adds little to nothing to the plot save for a couple of character interactions between Mulan and Xian Lang. Xian Lang works with Bori Khan and the northern invaders even though Bori Khan is cruel towards her. Xian Lang works with Bori Khan throughout the film, however, until the very end when she sacrifices herself for Mulan. What was probably supposed to be a powerful and meaningful moment felt flat and dry. 

Even Mulan’s reveal to be a woman feels horrendously flat and emotionless. After an interaction with Xian Lang, Mulan decides to risk her life and ditch her disguise. Mulan rides out onto the battlefield, hair flowing in the wind, and proceeds to battle the northern invaders with no armor. After the avalanche scene (which was a badly animated CGI mess), Mulan is confronted by the General, and rather than it feeling like a dramatic turning point with real consequences, it feels meaningless. When Mulan returns to the soldiers, they just accept her as a leader with no prior indication as to why they would have a change of heart. 


BRINGING HONOR TO US ALL-my final thoughts

The true-crime of Mulan(2020) was its wasted potential. With the whopping budget of 200 million and nostalgia points from thousands of Disney fans, Mulan(2020) had the possibility of true cinematic greatness. The cinematography of this film was gorgeous, with lovely sweeping shots of the Chinese landscape. The soundtrack, with its basis on the original music, brought a sense of majesty and nostalgia to the film. 

A shot of Mulan on the rooftops of a city

Disney had the chance to create its greatest live-action remake yet but chose to squander it with choppy editing, boring monologues, and flat emotionless characters. Then, Disney had the gall to charge $30 to view this film on Disney Plus. As I watched the movie, I found myself often checking to see how much longer was left. I felt my genuine disappointment grow as I watched Disney drag one of my favorite films through the mud. I don’t think Disney set out to create a bad film. I think circumstance and a disregard for what made the 1998 film so special led to a boring action film, with no heart or soul behind it. 


The original Mulan, though I could ramble on forever as to why it just works, is a film filled with emotion and heart. The music creates the movie’s soul, the characters its heart, and the story binding it all together. The animated Mulan was a masterpiece in its own right and Disney set out on a herculean task to try and even remotely capture the essence of the original film. This, I realized as I made my notes for this review, is why Disney failed. You can’t recreate something as unique and special as Mulan. I can recognize that the original Mulan had flaws, but in trying to solve these issues Disney lost its sense of direction. But even the lost can find their way and I take solace in the small glimmers of what could’ve been, a film I imagine in my head to be the greatest disney film since the Disney Renaissance, a film so powerful it could bring honor to us all.