1998 Animated vs 2020 Live Action Mulan

Sarah Chen and Arushi Mallarapu

You don’t need me to tell you that 2020 has been a whirlwind so far. With problems of every nature, entertainment companies are scrambling to appease the crowds. This September, after a multitude of release delays because of COVID-19, Disney’s live action version of the trailblazing film, Mulan, was added to Disney Plus for the price of $29.99 singularly. But was the live action film worth it?

Let’s start off with some background history. The first written record of Mulan, “The Ballad of Mulan,” is a folk song believed to have been composed during the Northern Wei dynasty, which ruled from 386 to 534 CE. Hua Mulan was a female warrior from the Northern and Southern dynasties’ era of Chinese history. Mulan took her father’s place in the army by disguising herself as a man. After prolonged and distinguished military service against nomadic forces beyond the northern frontier, Mulan is honored by the emperor but declines a position of high office. She retires to her hometown, where she is reunited with her family and reveals her gender, much to the astonishment of her comrades.

There are many distinct differences between the originally animated movie and the newly released live action version of Mulan. The 2020 movie uses Mulan’s actual surname ‘Hua’ instead of the 1998 ‘Fa,’ so Mulan’s name appears as Hua Mulan (family names go before given names in East Asia). Iconic characters such as Mushu, Cricket, Mulan’s grandmother and The Ancestors are absent.

Upon hearing this news, sophomore Amelia Radman commented “I don’t know how to feel about it; it didn’t have Mushu!”

Songs like “Reflections” and “Be a Man” were changed to pieces that had the attributes of formal and classical music rather than the fun and catchy Disney tunes. 

Many characters have a lesser role in the story, with the addition of new characters. The well-known trio, Yao, Chien-Po and Ling, are merged into background soldiers, despite being valuable warriors with a high reputation in Mulan’s battalion. Li Shang, who ends up being Mulan’s husband in the 1998 films, is traded for Chen Honghui. Additionally, their romantic scenes significantly decrease. Another important change would be the addition of the character Xian Lang, a witch fighting for the rebels because they “accept” her. Mulan questions her need to be accepted which becomes a key point in the story.  Her addition to this story created strong opinions on both sides. 

Critics claim that having a magic-wielding character deprives Mulan’s strength and hard work, instead writing it off as a “power” or a “gift.” This refers back to  the idea of a realistic movie, as FLHS freshman Som Nene says, “Why did they put a random witch with magical powers in it? They said they removed Mushu, but then they put a witch who can run straight up walls.”

Others argued that Xian Lang was an example of a manipulated and mistreated woman, as she was often referred to as “the witch” or “our (clan’s) dog,” and this representation was necessary to bring a call to action for women in such conditions. These character changes played a consequential part on the opinions of the live action film.

Google Review claims that the live action movie was not worth it. The 1998 animated Mulan is rated as a 4.4 out of 5 with 626 raters, while the 2020 live action Mulan has a rating of 2.7 with 22,190 raters. After viewing these numbers, the audience can make an immediate decision: The original, Disney, version of Mulan is better than the 2020 version, based upon the presented rating data. After a quick read through of the negative reviews, it seems that most viewers were hoping for a more realistic version of Hua Mulan’s story, and the 2020 version didn’t cut it. 

In my opinion, the 1998 Mulan is for any age, gender or race, while 2020 Mulan requires a deeper understanding of ostracization and historical sexism. To properly enjoy the new Mulan, you have to find the well-placed metaphors they use to silently call out the way things used to be, and in some cases, still are. Kids would have a difficult time enjoying this movie because they are not yet able to understand the purpose behind the meaningful words of Mulan and Xian Lang. If the “good at seeing deeper meaning” label fits you, then I believe this movie is perfect! It’s full of intelligent conversations, intense fight scenes, and beautiful landscapes. You will be kept on the edge of your seat as we relearn the message behind Mulan’s story: always stay true to your heart.