Film Review: Mulan 2020 “Dishonors” the Original Cartoon and Chinese Storybook


Aber (Cloud) Qureshi, Student Of Journalism

The trend of Disney’s live-action remakes continue as the year 2020 rolls around and one of the remakes planned to be released was Mulan (2020), a retelling of the original 1998 animated film sharing the same name, and an adaptation of the Chinese storybook Hua Mulan. 

Mulan (2020) was planned for a worldwide theatrical release on March 9, but because of the recent and global COVID-19 Pandemic, Mulan (2020) was delayed and ultimately cancelled for a theatrical release. Instead, Disney premiered the film on Sept. 4, 2020 exclusively on its streaming service, Disney+, for a premium fee of $30. 

While technically released to the streaming service in September of 2020, Mulan (2020) was then re-released on Disney+ for free recently on Dec. 4, for the full public to see and for no additional charges. Being someone who had previously watched other live action Disney remakes prior to Mulan (2020), such as Beauty And The Beast (2017), Aladdin (2019) and The Lion King (2019), I had no interest and or excitement for Mulan (2020) whatsoever. I thought this was going to be a traditional Disney live action remake, a shameful and safe retelling of the original stories, with little to no changes whatsoever. And any of the changes that were shown in the films, were mostly minor differences that are “okay” at best, but “pointless” at worst.

With that being in my mind, I was not willing to pay the $30 price tag for a movie that I was probably not going to enjoy. And even then, why pay $30 for a movie on a streaming service, when the same exact film will come out for free just a few months later? So long as people owned the Disney+ streaming service, audience members would be able to watch Mulan (2020) for free in December, rather than pay an additional price to watch the film early, just an easy way for Disney to get their big buck buck bucks.

Despite waiting for Mulan (2020) to be released for the whole public for free, other reviews of the films had come in, with audience reception being fairly positive, but critical response coming from the website Vox being negative upon the fact that this remake delivers “clunky writing” and offers almost “nothing new or substantial to save it.” The target audience for the Chinese also despised this film, as they also felt this film was inaccurate to Chinese culture and Chinese elements, resulting in the film to spawn several controversies around the production and filmmaking. 

However despite all of these criticisms coming in, Mulan (2020) was re-released for free and with the film no longer having a price over its head, more audience members, including myself, have finally got to experience the film and see where Mulan (2020) stands. Does it “honor” or “dishonor” the original animated film or the original Chinese storybook? The answer is dishonored.

This is yet again another one of Disney’s shameful remakes and how it ultimately fails to not only capture the element of greatness that the original intended, but also how it fails to construct itself as a fine or even passable film all together. And honestly, despite the bad taste Mulan (2020) left in my mouth, with the controversy, criticism and the overall production, I still felt that Mulan (2020) could have been the one Disney remake that finally won me over. 

This film had so much promise and had the pieces all laid out. The cinematography looked amazing, being that the production team actually filmed in real Chinese locations and in the mountainous areas of Asia. The film had an all star cast, including Jet Li, Jason Scott Lee and much more. The director had previously worked on a film called Whale Rider (2002), which was almost identical to the actual story of Mulan (2020) and was received extremely positively. So there really was not much of an excuse that Mulan (2020) had, but I felt that the reason why the film failed was not because the directors fault, but rather the studio.

This film wanted to be something so much more, but Disney made sure that this film would make what all its other live action remakes do and play its cards as safe as it can. It remakes the story of old, and subtracts everything to make it hardly new. But what about any new elements, do they still land the mark? No. No, they do not.

Mulan (2020) removes iconic characters from the cartoon including Mushu, Yao, Ling, Chien Po, the grandmother, and Captain Shang. Now this would not be a terrible thing, and I could get around this.  The problem being that these characters that were in the original Mulan (1998), helped give Mulan actual character and made her compelling enough to improve and actually root for. In this remake, however, because all of these characters are removed, it gives Mulan even less character to work with. It makes her uninspiring, boring and no chance to grow throughout the journey. And even with the lack of characters presented in this film, she has “Qi” abilities that were given to her without any exposition or introduction.

The term “Qi,” in simple terms, is a Chinese element that is supposed to be believed as the vital force that binds and makes all living things alive. Qi, can simply be interpreted as air or a pop culture and an easier example could be like “the force” from Star Wars (1977). 

The idea and element of giving Mulan “Qi powers” in the remake makes for sloppy storytelling and writing. The element, first of all, was never introduced or mentioned at all in the film, giving audience members the question as to “how” and “why” does she have these powers if they are not going to give an explanation or answer to this. The second problem is that giving Mulan “Qi powers” completely destroys her character. In both the original cartoon and Chinese storybook, Mulan had to be in the army and train to become a strong warrior. She obviously sucked at being brute force, which is why she uses her skills to improvise and be more technical to defeat the enemies in the original storybook and cartoon. She undergoes a whole journey to be a stronger character, and it gives audience members a character to relate to, fear for and learn from.

The remake throws all that morality out the window and gives Mulan all the superhuman strength to already become a strong and flawless character. Because of her having no flaws and her already being strong and overpowered enough, the audience members have no reason to fear, or worry, or question if Mulan will get stronger and resolve the conflict. When the main protagonist of a story has no fundamental flaw or weakness to a character, the end result is left with a highly boring, unsatisfying and dull protagonist for the whole journey.

I do not want to go too far into spoiler territory if nobody has seen this film yet, but character is a fundamental and important purpose into a story and if it is completely removed or broken, then the end result is an incoherent pile of a mess of storytelling. But I mean, whatever. What about the action?  No, the action is bad too.

I guess the action scenes are fairly passable but the editing in this film is an absolute mess. There were plenty of moments when a fight scene was happening, did I feel sick because the camera kept cutting and zipping all around the screen without giving me a second to enjoy the action. With the constant cutting and abrupt editing, the fight scenes are all messy and incoherent that even the action isn’t enough to save this film.

The music was quite forgettable in this film and the worst aspect about this film is how easily worthless it feels. I cannot believe that this film came out four months ago and for free now, and it already feels dated and forgotten, just like the soundtrack.

Overall, Mulan (2020) is yet again another one of Disney’s traditional live-action remakes, a bad attempt at remaking a classic and one to be forgotten soon enough. If others view this film on its own without comparing it to the original source materials, then the film is no better than a below average Chinese action flick.

If others do view this film and compare it with its original source materials, then it crosses the line of being a bad remake to adding almost nothing new and decimating old. As a remake, it fundamentally fails to hold itself up and to the same standard as its originals.

To me, Mulan (2020) feels like a film, which had thought and care put into it, but Disney put its own remake formula over this good concept, like accidentally mixing a batch of cookies with salt. It is an incoherent mess that will soon be worthless and forgotten much like its previous live action remakes. I guess if there is some children and they would like to watch something to keep them occupied, this film has that sole purpose. But if this is a film that retells the original Mulan (1998) well enough, it is certainly not worth fighting for.


The bolded portion is the score I give this film.


1 – Disgraceful The worst rating. Film fails to captivate audience members in any aspect and has absolutely zero positives. These films should be recognized as some of the worst films ever created and should be avoided by all costs.
2 – Atrocious Film fails to have any sort of redeemable factors, however small details like a couple laughs or minor appeal is enough to save it from the lowest rating
3 – Awful Film is relatively disliked but retains promising key factors and thought that keeps it a promising yet disappointing film
4 – Bad Film is bad and not good but still has charm added to it, such as a good soundtrack, laughable jokes, decent cinematography
5 – Mediocre Film is not terrible but nothing to get excited about. It holds a decent place but most likely would be forgotten or nothing worth looking back on
6 – Okay Film is just passable. It isn’t bad and decent enough to pass by. While not as forgettable, it still has some stance and would just be looked on as fine, but nothing amazing.
7 – Good Film is pretty decent. Holds a good level of storytelling, character development, soundtrack, etc. Nothing out of this world, but a good film people can enjoy
8 – Great Film is well crafted and respected. Holds the same level as a good film but goes the extra mile by making itself worth while to rewatch a number of times and still hold its charm.
9 – Amazing Film is extremely well done. Every aspect from story, to visuals, to acting, etc, is spot on and fantastic. A film that is definitely rewatchable and surely to hold the same enjoyability factor
10 – Godtier Film is top tier and nearly 100 percent flawless. The highest ranking as a film does every small aspect and every margin to the best it can be. These films should be recognized as some of the best films of all time and a 100 percent must watch.