Will Mulan Bring Honor to Us All… Again?/by Bryan Matthews
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 22 years since the release of the original “Mulan.” At that time, Disney was reinvigorated and grew exponentially due to a renaissance of animated films. They made a new slate of legends that matched their previous great works like “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “The Jungle Book.” The renaissance of the ‘90s brought us films like “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Aladdin.” To close out this era, Disney released a film called “Mulan.”
This movie has a special place in my heart. Every emotion imaginable hits me when I watch it. When the song “Reflection” plays, I completely empathize with Mulan and feel what she is feeling. I find myself laughing harder now than when I was a kid because of the adult humor in the subtext. When Mulan finally presents her father with the honor that she thinks he wants, and he hugs her instead; this boy is hit in the feels. And let me get something out of the way: nothing gets me more ready to charge into the great unknown and face certain death than “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.” When that song plays, Mulan becomes the greatest film of all time for three minutes and 22 seconds.
Now, we fast forward 22 years. Just when you were ready to go to China to fight the Huns, you realize that COVID-19 is still a thing. Good news is that you can still make that trip to China, just in a different form. The live-action remake of Mulan will hit Disney Plus on Sept. 4. Due to complications caused by COVID-19, the movie will not see a theatre release, but producers of the film have made many statements saying that people should not worry.
It is no secret that Disney is gleaning from our nostalgia with their live-action remakes. Don’t believe me? What if I told you that every single film I mentioned earlier has already been redone in live-action, making anywhere from $542 million to $1.65 billion? Beyond controlling the market, a common complaint with them–a chief one of mine as well–is that no new ground is being covered. Audiences could have watched the same movie, in animated form, decades ago from their living rooms.
But judging by reports and trailers alone, the live-action Mulan will be attempting to tread new ground and get out of the shadow of its predecessor. Personally, I like this approach. Adding flavor for a new audience, giving us comparisons to make, and providing us with new iterations of old stories that can still teach poignant messages today is what I hope this film will accomplish. The original does so well at providing a nuanced look at what being a woman in a man’s world was like. At that time, women had one duty: knowing their place. However, one woman’s bravery to save her family and her country from destruction was enough to change the world. The live-action version needs to capitalize on its ability to be as relevant
as the original when it addresses these themes and messages.
Was the original film perfect? No. While constantly telling us about self-worth, honor to one’s family through your own actions, and the power of friendship, she still ends up falling for the overly attractive male lead. While this isn’t a game changer, I do think that it goes against what the film is trying to say.
This new take on the story, according to news reports, will be leaving out the romance entirely, providing plenty of room to make Mulan’s character arc more personal. This will also give Mulan the ability to form platonic relationships with other male characters instead of falling for one because she finds him attractive (here’s looking at you, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker).
Another article stated that there will be no singing, but songs will be used in the instrumental film score. While I do not love the fact that I won’t hear “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” as people train and march into battle, I understand the choice. Grounded realism is what this film needs to tell a different story.
Overall, I’m excited for a new take on a childhood favorite. The idea of making Mulan a grounded, action epic has me intrigued as well as cautious. Only time can tell if Mulan will bring honor to us all, or if it needs to look back at its reflection. I just hope it doesn’t take a lucky cricket to make it watchable.