Disney kowtows to China with Mulan (2020) and still manages to spectacularly fail.
Remaking a classic, beloved cartoon into a live-action is no easy task. And I have a lot of empathy for the multibillion dollar conglomerate empire that attempts the feat. I really do. But it is rare and truly striking to me that one could mess up this badly. Disney’s new Mulan (2020) live-action doesn’t quite reach “Crimes-Against-Humanity” badness. No one’s going to quite get dragged to the Hague for this one. But Niki Caro and the (non-Chinese) writing staff of this latest Disney+ dumpster fire certainly gave it the old college try.
Bagel and I watched the movie this past Tuesday and since then I’ve been sitting with my thoughts, trying to organize some kind of coherent review on what happened. I think, in summary, Mulan (2020) is the single most anti-feminist and female-anti-empowerment story I’ve seen in the past decade. It’s genuinely very impressively backwards and I couldn’t believe that so many major American outlets had reviewed Mulan (2020) so positively. (The movie currently sits at a solid 75% by professional critics on RT!)
As many people have noted elsewhere, but I’ll repeat again briefly here: In the cartoon, Mulan was just an ordinary girl. She joins the army under the guise of a man, and through hard work and intense training, manages to solve problems to save the day in very human ways. In this 2020 live-action version, Mulan inexplicably has superhero powers because she’s been endowed with some kinda mystical “Qi” energy/ability/talent from birth. Additionally, Mulan suddenly now has a younger sister who’s only teleological purpose, as far as I could discern, was to just get married because that’s apparently what all women in China who don’t have superpowers are allowed and expected to do. Bagel, I should mention, also hated the movie and sent me this video essay that really excellently deconstructs all the ways Mulan (2020) is terrible.
Other headscratchers and disappointments: That whole Gong Li subplot, the criminal omission of Mushu (Dumbledore’s Fawkes phoenix and Gong Li’s witch-creature-thing makes the cut but not a magical talking mini-dragon? C’mon!), and the super-criminal omission of everyone’s favorite “I’ll Make A Man Out of You” song.
If I had to sum up all of my opinions about Mulan (2020) into a single thought, it’d be this: Disney turned Mulan into a Marvel superhero story and created a female-anti-empowerment masterpiece in an attempt to crack the Chinese box office, but totally failed.