Mulan in 2020: Worth a Watch?

From left to right: Donnie Yen, Liu Yifei, Gong Li, Jason Scott Lee, and Yoson An in the 2020 Mulan remake. (from

The new version of the beloved 1998 animated film Mulan was released on Disney+ last month, for a $30 fee. With a $200 million budget, the film has been widely anticipated, even as the chances of seeing it in theaters vanished. 

The tale opens with Mulan as a child, chasing a chicken around her village and flipping up onto rooftops, to the dismay of her family and the villagers. Despite the omission of Mulan’s romance with Li Shang and the fan favorite dragon Mushu in an effort to make the movie more historically accurate, it’s revealed early on that Mulan has an inner magical power called “chi”. Her father urges her to hide it away because it’s apparently only for warriors (read: men).

Some Disney lovers, myself included, were disappointed that yet another live-action remake was being released, instead of original stories. However, unlike Aladdin and The Lion King, Mulan is not taken line-by-line from its predecessor. The villainous Huns are fundamentally the same, but are called Rourans, and their leader (Jason Scott Lee) is assisted by a witch (Gong Li) who also possesses chi, and mainly uses it to turn into a hawk and take down a lot of imperial soldiers

There are a few nods to the original movie, and it’s interesting to see how certain scenes line up. As Mulan and other soldiers prepare to go to battle, the commander tells them they must be “tranquil as a forest, but a fire within” referencing the song “Make a Man Out of You”. And an instrumental version of “Reflection” plays in the background of a couple different important scenes.

Although the script is a little weak in some places, the actors do a great job with it. It’s fascinating to watch Liu Yifei transform from wild child to battlefield leader, and the relationship between Mulan and her father (Tzi Ma) is just as touching and complex as it is in the original. Gong Li is incredible as the witch, who appears simply malevolent at first, but later reveals hidden depths. However, while most of the battles shown in the movie are well done and very impressive, her action scenes appear just a little off in some places. Slightly choppy and awkwardly timed, they’re reminiscent of a bad superhero cartoon. 

A poster for the 1998 Mulan next to the 2020 version’s poster. (from

The cinematography is incredible. There are sweeping, dramatic shots of mountains, deserts, and city skylines. The brilliant reds, golds, and blues draw you in and make you feel like you’re in a bustling village or snowy valley. But the film feels like it’s missing a little something. Though many fans of the original were upset by the news that Mushu wouldn’t be included, it’s not so much his absence that causes a problem, but the lack of almost any comedy. Though a couple scenes will make you smile, there’s none of the endearing slapstick of the original. It’s understandable that the director may have wanted to make the live action version more serious and realistic, but they went a little too far and ended up cutting out a large part of what makes it so lovable.

Li Shang’s exclusion from the movie also disappointed some fans, but he is replaced by Mulan’s fellow soldier Honghui (Yoson An). Though there’s less outright romance, they have an unspoken spark that is somehow both ambiguous and very satisfying to watch.

Though not related to the movie itself, it’s also important to note that Mulan has come under fire for thanking the government of Xinjiang in its credits, the Chinese city where thousands of Uyghur muslims are being held in camps. In addition, actor Yifei has come out in support of police crackdowns on protesters in Hong Kong.

So, the million-dollar (or rather, thirty-dollar) question: is it worth paying that Premier Access price? The short answer is, no. Though it’s visually stunning and has a striking feminist heroine, it’s not a movie you should necessarily go out of your way to watch, as well as being the target of some serious controversy.

If you really want to see it, I recommend you hang on until December 4, when Mulan will be available on Disney+ for everyone.