Mulan: What Disney's Movie Changed From The Real Chinese Legend

Disney's live-action remake of Mulan changes some key details for the legend on which it is based. This new live-action take on the story of Mulan has based its story on both the 1998 animated film of the same name and the actual Chinese legend of Hua Mulan.

Directed by Niki Caro (Whale Rider), the live-action remake of Mulan stars Liu Yifei as the legendary heroine, with the supporting, all-Asian cast including celebrated actors like Donnie Yen, Jet Li, Gong Li, Jason Scott Lee, Tzi Ma, and Rosalind Chao. The forthcoming remake breathes new life into a familiar story: Mulan is a young woman expected to marry and bring honor to her family. The threat of war at the hands of a powerful witch and her army changes those plans, and her father is drafted into the Imperial army. Worried for her father's safety, Mulan decides to disguise herself as a man and take his place.

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Related: Why Disney's Mulan Remake Is Facing Calls For A Boycott

The live-action Mulan remake makes some obvious changes to the animated Disney movie, ditching all of the musical numbers, as well as Mushu, her ancestral spirit guide who must protect her in battle. When it comes to the actual legend of Hua Mulan, the live-action Mulan remake sticks to the major plot points but does make some notable, albeit subtle, changes.

Mulan Has A Sister In The Live-Action Remake

One subtle change in the live-action Mulan remake involves her family. It's revealed Mulan has a sister, a first as far as English-language adaptations of the Chinese legend are concerned. In the animated movie, Mulan is an only child. When her father is drafted into the army, she fears for his safety because he is depicted as frail and likely to die if he saw battle. She then decides to disguise herself as her father's son and take his place. In some versions of the legend, Mulan has a younger brother who is drafted but he is too little to fight. Mulan's reasons for enlisting remain the same in this version of the story: she chooses to protect her brother by disguising herself as a man and takes his place in the Imperial Army. It's clear in many versions of the legend that Mulan is already a skilled archer and fighter when she enlists, giving her an advantage even before she begins her training.

Mulan's Time Spent As A Soldier Will Be Shortened

The amount of time spent showing Mulan in training with other Imperial soldiers will likely be compressed in the live-action remake. This is partially due to the constraints of the movie's runtime but also as a way to tell Mulan's story as efficiently as possible. The same thing happened in the animated movie, with Mulan's Imperial army training being turned into a short musical montage set to the song "I'll Make a Man Out Of You".

It's understandable this aspect of Mulan's story would be compressed. Spending too much time showing years of her life as a soldier, before the definitive battle that turns her into a legend, risks leading the story astray. Things are a little different in the legend of Mulan, though. According to the story, Mulan spent years fighting alongside other soldiers while maintaining her cover. What the Disney animated film got right (and what will likely be shown in the live-action remake) is just how tough it must have been for Mulan to hide her true identity from the other soldiers.

The Live-Action Mulan Remake Will Have A Happier Ending

Since this is a Disney live-action remake, audiences should expect a happy (or, at minimum, a satisfying) ending. The animated Mulan movie gave audiences a very happy ending: Mulan reveals she is a woman after saving China from the invading Hun army. Not only is she honored by the Emperor but it's also implied she becomes romantically linked to Shang, her commanding officer (a slightly problematic relationship, to be fair, but still acceptable) when he comes to see her at her family's home.

As far as the legend is concerned, there are much darker endings for Mulan, depending on which version one reads. In one particularly dark version of the Mulan legend, she is intercepted by the opposing king's army and taken prisoner. When the king's daughter, also a warrior, questions Mulan and discovers she's a woman, they become sworn sisters. When the king's army is defeated by their enemy and the king himself is condemned to die, Mulan and her adopted sister offer their lives in exchange for his. The Emperor is impressed by their courageous offer and instead gives Mulan enough money to return home to her family.

But when she returns, she finds her father has been dead for some time and her mother has remarried. To make matters worse, Mulan is summoned by the king of the conquering army and he demands she become his concubine. She rejects this, instead choosing to end her life and go out on her own terms.

Mulan Disguising Herself As A Male Soldier Is Considered Taboo

The big reason Mulan's story is so legendary is because she was a woman who disguised herself as a man and spent years defending China from various threats. She subverted the societal expectations of her time, since women were expected to be quiet, reserved, and submissive. In both the live-action remake and the animated movie, Mulan disobeys her father's wish that she marry, instead enlisting in the Imperial army while pretending to be a man. This is depicted as a brave act but one that is still taboo - even if it's not directly addressed.

However, there is historical evidence that shows women could have been drafted into the Imperial army if there was a desperate and immediate need for soldiers. One notable example is Princess Pingyang, who lived during the 7th century and was a key figure in leading the Chinese army to victory in a battle that allowed her father to become emperor and establish the Tang dynasty.

The Live-Action Remake Villain Is Different From Past Versions

The primary villain in the Disney live-action remake is a witch named Xian Lang. In the animated movie, a menacing Hun named Shan Yu leads his vast army into China and proves to be a major threat. Both of these villains are variations of the ones from the different versions of the Mulan legend. However, the Hun army from the animated Mulan movie is closest to the legend, where the main threat is often an invading army from another country.

Next: All The Live-Action Disney Remakes In Development

Key Release Dates
  • Mulan (2020) release date: Mar 27, 2020
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