Spoiler alert! The following reveals how the new “Mulan” makes some changes from the original animated movie. Stop reading now if you don’t want to know.
Who is that girl I see, staring straight back at me? It’s certainly Mulan, but there’s something different about her.
Much like Disney’s 1998 animated movie “Mulan,” the titular heroine in the new live-action film (available Friday on Disney+ as a $30 premium add-on) is a brave Chinese woman (played by Yifei Liu) who disguises herself as a man in order to take the place of her ailing father in The Emperor’s conscripted army.
However, this Mulan doesn’t cut her hair, gain a talking dragon guardian or make eyes at a hunky army general.
In addition to the fact that the 2020 “Mulan” is a dramatic action film (instead of a comedic musical), here are a few other major changes from the animated movie:
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The new ‘Mulan’ isn’t a musical, but there is a familiar score
The animated “Mulan” brought us timeless classics, from introspective ballad “Reflection” to tongue-in-cheek training song “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.” There’s no singing in the new “Mulan,” but the melodies of the original tunes are woven into the fresh film score, and select lyrics are included in the dialogue. For example, the line “Bring honor to us” is spoken, instead of belted like it is in the song “Honor to Us All.” And the line “I don’t care what she looks like, I care what she cooks like,” which is similar to a lyric from the song “A Girl Worth Fighting For,” manages to work its way into conversation in the film.
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A female antagonist debuts
Cartoon Mulan had to face the menacing Shan-Yu and his hawk, but live-action Mulan is up against the frightening Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee) and a shapeshifting witch named Xian Lang (Gong Li). The addition of a new female villain adds heft to the film’s theme of sexism.
“The witch is operating out of villainy really against her own wishes, because there’s no place for her as a strong woman,” says director Niki Caro. The character, who has claws and changing motives, “functions as a tragic heroine, in many ways,” Caro adds. “The interesting parallel there is that Mulan possesses many of the same qualities as the witch.”
Mulan is born with ‘chi’
As a young girl, the new Mulan adeptly maneuvers a stick and gracefully lands after jumping off a roof. However, her father tells her to hide her inner warrior skills – her chi, as the movie calls it.
Lee describes the concept of “chi” in Chinese culture as encompassing “everything – natural energy, natural world energy, cosmic energy. It’s our yin and yang energy,” he says. “It’s life force energy.”
Instead of a dragon, a cricket and a love interest, there’s a phoenix, a soldier named Cricket and a new connection
There are tweaks to the cast of supporting characters. For starters, Mulan no longer has a guardian dragon named Mushu (voiced by Eddie Murphy in the animated movie) or a cricket sidekick. Instead, she’s guarded by a phoenix (who doesn’t talk) and befriends her fellow army trainees who have new names, including a gentle one named Cricket.
Mulan has a memorable meeting with a fellow recruit named Honghui (Yoson An), a new character who suspects that Mulan is hiding something. The two develop a connection. Which brings up another change: The animated film’s usually shirtless love interest General Li Shang is absent in the new “Mulan.”
There isn’t a hair-slicing or makeup-removing scene
Animated Mulan memorably wipes off her makeup and asks, in song, “When will my reflection show who I am inside?” In another iconic scene from the first film, she slices off her long hair with a blade before pretending to be a man in her father’s armor.
These moments don’t happen in the new movie. Instead, the musical “Reflection” refrain only plays, wordless, later in the movie, and Mulan never cuts her hair — she just knots it at the top of her head.
As Caro explains it, the original Mulan understood that it was her dolled-up reflection that didn’t fit her identity. In the 2020 version, Mulan comes to ultimately realize that her masculine, armored exterior doesn’t match her inner self.
“Now, while she’s disguised as a man, she can’t be strong. She’s hiding that essence of herself. Which in our movie is her chi,” says Caro. “And it isn’t until she commits to the idea of who she really is that she’ll truly be strong. That idea of, ‘Why don’t I recognize myself?’ is inverted in this film.”
And so in the new movie, we get powerful imagery of Mulan wielding a sword and shooting an arrow, owning her femininity with her long hair flowing.
The ending isn’t quite the same (we won’t spoil it here)
We won’t tell you exactly what happens at the end of the new “Mulan,” but suffice it to say that Mushu does not have a dance party with Mulan’s ancestors, Shang does not come visit the family home, Mulan does not invite Shang to dinner and her grandmother does not ask him if he wants to “stay forever.” Considering the fact that Mushu, Shang and Grandmother Fa do not exist in the new movie, this much was obvious.
Contributing: Bryan Alexander