When I saw an early screening of Disney’s live-action retelling of Mulan last March, I never thought being able to claim I saw it in a theater would be rare. But here we are, six-months later, and after multiple postponed release dates, the film is finally coming out on September 4th. Taking a queue from all of the “Home Premieres” before it, Disney is releasing Mulan direct-to-streaming in markets that have Disney+ under a new upgrade experience called Premier Access. For $29.99, Disney+ subscribers will have access to see Mulan as many times as they like, provided they keep their Disney+ subscription active.
Like most of the live-action retellings of Disney animated features before it, Mulan fits within the framework of the 1998 film’s plot. But unlike The Lion King, which was more-or-less a shot-for-shot remake that didn’t add much to the story, Mulan not only changes things, but adds to the plot as well. Like the heroine, the filmmakers were brave with their approach and their reward is a film that stands apart from its animated counterpart as something that feels new and fresh.
Hua Mulan has always had a rebellious spirit and never felt like the other girls in her village. Following a failed test with the local matchmaker, her elderly father is summoned to serve China again in a looming war. Risking her life to save her father’s, Mulan disguises herself as a man to fight in her father’s place, but ends up discovering who she was meant to be in the process.
It’s only been twenty-two years since the animated feature, the most recent film Disney has reimagined for a live-action treatment. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t aspects of the story that needed to be changed in order to pass a 2020 appropriate norms test, most obviously the shifting of Mulan’s love interest form her superior in the original animated film (Li Shang) to a similarly recruited peer in this version (Honghui). The names of most of the characters have also been changed, including Mulan’s surname (Hua instead of Fa) and her alias (Hua Jun instead of Ping).
The biggest difference from the animated film, is the villain, or villains to be more exact. The leader of the Huns, Shan Yu, has been replaced by Böri Khan, the leader of the Rouran Shadow Warriors. In the animated film, Shan Yu had a falcon sidekick who would spy for him. In this version, he is aided by a shapeshifting witch named Xianniang who has ulterior motives. Her subplot is what makes this adaptation feel truly unique and I have a feeling that fans are really going to latch on to this character.
Viewers will also be quick to notice the absence of Mulan’s animal friends. She doesn’t have a dog and while her family includes a new member (a younger sister), she doesn’t have a grandma and doesn’t receive a lucky cricket. Most notably, Mushu is not along for the ride in this version, but Mulan does have a spiritual guardian who helps her when she needs it. Rather than a dragon, the family’s stone guardian is a phoenix who poetically contrasts Xianniang’s bird form.
One of Disney’s best live-action retellings, Mulan is finally here for Disney+ subscribers to enjoy if they are willing to pay the $29.99 Premier Access price. Where I live, that’s about what I would pay for two adult tickets to see it in theaters and it comes with the ability to see it as many times as I want. The choice is yours, but I highly recommend Disney’s 2020 adaptation of Mulan.
I give Mulan 5 out of 5 colors on the tail of the phoenix guardian.
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.