Disney announced recently that the live-action remake of Mulan will now be available to Disney+ subscribers on September 4 in lieu of a theatrical release. The movie will cost $29.99 to rent, on top of the $6.99 it already costs to subscribe to the service. This is well and good for Disney, a company that is certainly hopeful that an American public starved for new content will pony up the scratch. But before you consider dropping $30 on a gritty remake, please consider watching the original Mulan, which is, in my opinion, unimpeachable.
Nostalgia likely plays a role in my passion for the original, which came out in 1998, and has enjoyed a 22-year run as my favorite Disney movie of all time, due in part to the fact that Mulan is Chinese, but also because it’s just good? Of all the movies in the Disney canon, Mulan remains a classic because the songs are perfection, the aesthetics are on point, and Mulan herself is an inspirational blueprint for how to live a life that honors your family while also, somehow, honoring yourself.
Disney’s insistence on rifling through their archives to create live-action blockbusters is great for their bottom line, but the results are often horrifying—bombastic, glittering spectacles that are all fluff and no substance. The live-action remake of Mulan appears to be more serious than the original, which is well and good, but if I wanted to see a serious retelling of the legend of Hua Mulan, I wouldn’t turn to Disney for this specific ask. What I do want to see is the Mulan I know and love being harassed by her family and a matchmaker who looks like Harvey Fierstein without thinking about how this might look in real life.
Setting aside the background music, which sounds a little racist, and putting aside the fact that Mulan getting tooted up in a nice outfit to go find a man for her family’s honor isn’t an ideal setup, this song still slaps. The lack of music in the remake is probably for the best, as I can’t imagine a “serious” remake of Mulan’s story meshing well with the melodramatic introspection present in “Reflection,” which was such a fucking banger that Christina Aguilera did a version of it while dressed like a real estate agent trying to sell you a townhouse in Bethesda. Thankfully, in the live-action version, Shan Yu, the villainous Hun, will not be nearly as much of a racist caricature as he was in the cartoon version, but I’m willing to set my emotions of joy about that aside for what I think is the showstopper of the original: “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.”
I understand that these musical numbers are a hallmark of Disney movies and that a training montage is necessary for Mulan’s character development, but the brief drone shots of the Chinese army assembling en masse in the trailer for the remake leave me cold. Nothing will replace the manic energy of a shirtless Li Shang berating his troops to do better, climb faster, and kick with the vigor of a Rockette auditioning for the Christmas spectacular at Radio City. It’s silly, it’s definitely, again, “problematic” if you squint. But also, it’s perfect.
Really, Mulan is about the bonds of family and the boundaries we constantly redraw in order to meet expectations. It’s a nice way to introduce children to the concepts of both filial piety and independence, demonstrating neatly how you can somehow do both without sacrificing yourself.