So. The trailer for Disney’s live-action Mulan was just released a couple of days ago; and honestly? I have mixed feelings about it.
As a kid, Mulan was one of my favourite Disney heroines. I remember coming home from school and watching it religiously every other week on VHS (Yes, I existed in the era of VHS. lol). Being somewhat of a tomboy myself, I completely related to Mulan’s struggle to conform to what her parents wanted for her, but still stay true to who she was on the inside. She was also one of the few Asian characters in Disney, and I loved everything about the film – the art, the characters (Mushu and Cri-kee’s dynamic), the humour (Mulan’s ragtag gang of soldiers, ie Yao, Chien Pao and Ling) and of course, the music.
Disney has been in the habit of making live action remakes lately, like Beauty and the Beast which played it pretty safe by following the animated film’s storyline, and Aladdin, which screened earlier this year to mixed reviews. Of course, another Disney remake that has gotten a lot of flak lately is the Little Mermaid, after it was announced African-American actress Halle Bailey would play the titular character of Ariel, who has always been portrayed as white with red locks – launching the #NotMyAriel hashtag on Twitter.
Coming back to Mulan, the less-than-two minute trailer seems to indicate that the film would depart significantly from the original animation, with most of the notable characters missing (aforementioned Mushu, Cri-kee, grandma, and Mulan’s team in the army). There is apparently no love interest either, as we don’t see Li Shang.
All accounts considered, the upcoming Mulan seems to more about her own journey, which would fit the feminist element which Hollywood is pushing strong these days with films like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel (I fkin hate that film and nothing you say will dissuade me). While I can’t necessarily say it’s a bad thing until I’ve watched the actual film, if this is how it’s going to be, I can’t help but feel a pang of loss and nostalgia – that Disney would take away so many elements that essentially made the original animation such a well-loved, everlasting classic.
Sure, we all want a strong and confident Mulan who doesn’t need no man, but we also want all the other stuff that made us laugh and relate so much to the 1998 version. Perhaps the argument is that Mulan is based on a Chinese legend, and they want to stay true to the source material, but there are plenty of other films out there that have already covered that angle – like the excellent 2009 Hua Mulan starring Vicki Zhao Wei. I want my Mushu and Cri-kee!
Another argument is that concepts/values in old animations have changed, and in order to showcase diversity and the values of today, they should be updated to reflect the current times (eg how Jasmine ended up ruling Agrabah in Aladdin rather than in the original where she was just a ‘princess’). The thing is, Mulan has always been a strong, independent and badass character – heck, the Emperor bowed to her after she saved China – and she still had time to go home and bring honour to us all. I find there is little need to change what was essentially a perfect film on its own.
Disney’s need to ‘push diversity’ is a bold move, but it risks alienating a large group of Disney fans who have waited for years to see their favourite films come to life in live action reenactments, only to find they’ve been changed to the point that they lose their essence. For me, I’d love to see more original Disney films with new and fresh characters promoting diversity (like Moana) – rather than trying to shoehorn stuff into what is supposed to be a ‘remake’.
BTW one of my favourite scenes from the original. Pure, raw, powerful emotions – no dialogue needed.
Time to go rewatch the cartoon!