Mulan is the second best Disney movie ever made (behind Hercules, of course). It features iconic songs, a kickass cast and the best Disney Princess in the form of Fa Mulan. So when a live-action version was announced with an all Asian cast, expectations were pretty high. Well, the first teaser trailer for this adaptation of the movie is out and it looks sort of…. Meh?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a huge fan of medieval China. From the Han Dynasty and the three kingdoms onward, I find the entire region fascinating. So from a historical bent, this looks like a pretty cool action film based in ancient China. As a Mulan film, though? I’m not so sure.
We knew for a while that this version of Mulan was going to be different. Li Shang wasn’t going to be a character, there were talks of Mushu becoming a phoenix and, worst of all, early reports indicated that it wasn’t going to be a musical. Like, not at all. “I’ll Make a Man Out Of You” and “Reflection” at best were going to live on as instrumental versions, but the cast would not be singing any songs. As I’ve cautioned before with Black Ariel though, it helps to wait and see what is going to happen before making judgements.
With our first glance at Mulan, though, we can make a few pretty safe assumptions.
1) The world is not nearly as colorful or vibrant as the cartoon, and takes a much darker direction.
2) Mulan is already a badass before joining the war.
That second point there is probably the biggest deal to make note of from that trailer. We can clearly see Mulan practicing martial arts and swordsmanship in what looks like her home, or somewhere in a city. This means that before she even joins the army under false pretenses, she’s kind of already a badass.
On the surface this is great. Badass women are awesome, even more so when it involves martial arts and a sword. But Mulan was never really meant to be a badass. Sure, she got good at fighting and proved herself to Li Shang and the other men in her army, but she didn’t show up geared to the teeth and ready to take names. She struggled to meet their gender expectations, fought to gain their respect and in the end proved to them that she was every bit their equal, or even better, regardless of her gender.
Mulan as the plucky, never-say-die fighter who wants to save her father and will go to any length to do it is a lot different than a badass warrior Mulan. Where the first has heart, motivation and makes me want to root her on, the second feels kind of like… a basic movie heroine. The draw of Mulan is that she was doing something “wrong”, something she wasn’t prepared to do, failed at it miserably but kept with it and ultimately succeeded due to her cunning and wit. She wasn’t a warrior princess, or even a great fighter really. Mulan simply worked harder and was smarter than anyone else around.
Does this sudden shift in character mean the movie is going to be bad? Maybe not. But the absence of musical numbers such as “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”, which perfectly show Mulan’s struggle, failure and ultimate success highlight just how different things will be this time around.
Hopefully, this teaser trailer isn’t the end-all be-all. Hopefully, the director and writers made an amazing film that takes Disney’s best Princess and shows her in a new, incredible light. But at first glance, it sure seems like all these changes stripped away what made Mulan so amazing in the first place. It feels like, by ditching some of the original musical numbers, the film lost a lot of its heart along the way. We’ll see in 2020.
Caleb Edwards is a senior studying professional writing with a focus in editing and publishing. When he isn’t working or writing you can find him tending his fish, taking care of his cats and dogs or trying to find free time that he can waste (there never is any). You can follow him on Twitter @CEdwardsSam or find him at his website CalebMEdwards.com.