Mulan is my all-time favourite Disney movie.
Seriously, I almost developed vocal nodules from squealing ‘Reflection’ in the shower so consistently as a kid. I was always majorly connected to Mulan as a character (being a complete tomboy growing up), and my Dad would also always whip out the iconic quote, “the greatest honour is having you for a daughter” whenever I’d get the teenage-sads (cue the ‘awws’).
Most of all, I have been continually swept away by Mulan‘s heartstring-tugging themes – the utmost importance of family, the enduring struggles of being a woman and, of course, accepting who you truly are.
So, to say I was excited for the live-action remake of the classic was a big ‘ol understatement.
Now I knew that a live-action remake would mean completely upping the ante completely when it came to detailed costuming, illustrious settings and epic battle scenes, however, nothing could’ve prepared me for the emotional rollercoaster I was about to witness.
It’ll Immediately Rope You In With The Feels
Despite how old and cold my heart gets, I always get emotional watching the Disneyland castle light up at the beginning of a Disney movie – it’s what dreams are made of. Unlike the original, we get a glimpse into Mulan’s childhood, seeing her flex wunderkind-like skills from a young age, and seriously, this accelerated my ticket to (tear) Splash Mountain from the get-go.
Whether she’s rounding her coup of chickens up at lightning speeds or showcasing her incredible connection with ‘Chi’ (an ancient, powerful force only some can conquer), we’re given the idea from early on that she is quite the phenom.
Amidst all this, her mum isn’t happy. It’s apparent to the entire town that Mulan is different and people have started to notice. Much to Mulan’s father’s dismay, he breaks the news to his daughter that, “Chi is for warriors, not daughters.”
The sheer pain in his eyes as he breaks the news to Mulan is totally lump-in-your-throat worthy. Having to bottle up your true identity is such an enduring and relevant idea, which this scene captures the ramifications of so intensely.
It Tackles Gender Roles In A Super Confronting Way
When Mulan heads off to war on her own, her father (who narrates the movie, giving it that extra-emosh push) ponders that she is, “Innocent to the world of men.”
As she first enters the battalion, she’s exposed to typical bro-locker-room behaviour – it amplifies how much of an outsider she is, in which you can’t help but feel totally empathetic to how alien she must feel. It also really sets up the idea that most men can be praised despite their buffoonery, yet women with more skill, know-how and talent aren’t welcome.
It’s super confronting, and I absolutely adored how head-on it tackled the disparity between men and women in society. For most Millennial and Gen Z kids, watching the OG flick was probably the first time they were exposed to ideas like this, so seeing it expressed in an even more confronting way 20 years later feels like a huge full-circle moment.
The iconic training montage got me good too. Witnessing Mulan grapple with the feeling that she’s betraying the foundational virtues of ‘loyal, brave, and true’ – all while becoming the most fearless and strong member of the army – was a reminder of how courageous women are in the face of adversity, and how she put her life on the line out of love for her father.
One of the starkest differences from the original is the addition of the witch Xianniang, a key figure in attempting to take down the Imperial Army. She’s portrayed to be evil and sinister, which I’m sure is a metaphor for how society at the time demonised powerful women.
However, it’s revealed throughout the course of the film that she and Mulan aren’t too different after all – they’ve both been outcasted for their exceptional abilities.
It Totally Amps Up Everything You Love About The Original
Seeing the comradery develop amongst Mulan and the other warriors is one of the most emotional elements of the movie. She becomes a mentor amongst them, and literally assures them they won’t die at battle if they stick together – seriously, could she be any stronger?
The pure emotional pull of the movie also lies in the subtleties – seeing Mulan bind her chest at night after everyone else was asleep, or even watching on as her eyes sadden as her fellow soldiers discuss their ‘ideal’ woman are small, yet intense heart-jabs. I will say, it was the instrumental rendition of ‘Reflection’ that played right as Mulan reached the top of the mountain while carrying two buckets of water during a training exercise that truly triggered the waterworks completely.
The overarching moral of the story is that you’re never going to reach your full potential if you have to hide who you are. Mulan becomes her strongest as a warrior when she finally pulls down her hair and let’s go of the facade – even if it puts her at risk of being totally banished from society.
It’s the kind of story that’s timeless and the live-action remake has given it so much new meaning and life. It’s got all the heart and soul of the OG, but with added on bits of grit and maturity that your adult brain will devour. And, if you’re like me, it’ll crack open emotional crevices you haven’t acknowledged in years, which is probably what we all need a bit of right now.
Disney’s Mulan is streaming now, exclusively available to Disney+ subscribers who unlock Premier Access. Additional fee required.Image: Disney+ / Mulan