The fourth entry in Disney’s A Twisted Tale book series adds a new layer to the story of Mulan with Reflection by Elizabeth Lim. For those unfamiliar, this series takes classic Disney stories and proposes an alternate scenario. I previously reviewed two of Liz Braswell’s entries, A Whole New World and Once Upon a Dream. Both of those titles involved a twist where the villain had another trick up their sleeve, such as Jafar getting ahold of the lamp in the Cave of Wonders or Maleficent having a bonus curse that nobody knew about. But in Reflection, we discover an original story that combines Mulan’s journey with Chinese mythology about the afterlife.
“What if Mulan had to travel to the underworld?” That’s the question posed on the cover of Reflection and through this original tale, audiences will learn about Diyu and its eighteen levels. As a Disney fan, I was aware that the Chinese Disney Parks lacked cookie cutter Haunted Mansion attractions because the theme didn’t jive with their own beliefs in the afterlife. But what those beliefs were was a mystery to me.
This story starts with the battle against the Huns on the snowy mountains when the battle takes a twist. Mulan’s foolish bravery defeats the Huns, but Shang is critically injured in the process of trying to save her as Ping. When Shang’s spirit guide, a lion named ShiShi, and the spirit of his recently deceased father come to Ping that night and explain that Shang’s spirit has already crossed into Diyu, she and ShiShi venture into the underworld to make a deal with King Yama, lord of Diyu. The deal: Ping will have until sunrise to find Shang’s spirit and find a way back out of the underworld, or his soul will become part of Diyu forever. Those who enter Diyu the natural way have the potential to cross into heaven, but Mulan’s sentence will bind her there forever as one of King Yama’s demon servants.
Mulan’s journey through the underworld is constantly being thwarted by demons set on seeing her fail. Worst of all, she must continue to keep her true identity a secret, for Shang will surely abandon her if he discovers she is a woman impersonating an imperial officer. This becomes an even greater struggle when Meng Po is on their trail, constantly trying to offer them a tea that will make them forget their mission and fail at their quest.
Both Meng Po and King Yama are part of Chinese mythology surrounding Diyu, as are several locations visited in the book, like the Mountain of Knives and the Cauldron. I greatly enjoyed the educational aspects of this Twisted Tale and Author Elizabeth Lim has put in a great deal of care to ensure that the characters of Mulan, Shang, and Mushu (for his small part) feel accurate to their animated personas while existing in a story far removed from the original.
This is Elizabeth Lim’s debut novel, but it reads like the work of a very experienced author. Reading her bio makes her sound as impressive, if not more so, than Mulan herself. A graduate of both Harvard and Juliard, Lim is a composer of scores for both movies and video games. If you’ve ever read fan fiction on Star Wars or Sailor Moon, you may unknowingly already be familiar with some of her earliest writings. Fans can stay connected with Elizabeth Lim through her personal website.
While I enjoyed the previous entries in the Twisted Tale series, Reflection is on a whole other level. The story captivates, taking readers on a spellbinding journey through the underworld that reads like a dream. At the same time, it educates its audience on the culture that inspired the Disney animated classic. Brew a pot of tea, find a cozy corner, and enjoy this lovely story of friendship, adventure, and self reflection.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.