Disney is making a live-action Mulan? Well, that's one way to ruin the best film they've ever made

A beautiful lead actress won’t make sense in a film where a simple haircut transforms Mulan into a man – and what about all the homoeroticism?

Helen Pye
Thursday 02 April 2015 10:27 BST
By pretending to be a man, Mulan was able to join the army, defeat the Huns, and save China
By pretending to be a man, Mulan was able to join the army, defeat the Huns, and save China (Moviestore Collection/REX)

The first time I watched Mulan was on a long-haul flight when I was seven. When we touched down 12 hours later, I’d watched it a further six times back-to-back; I was obsessed.

I may no longer fit into the C&A kimono I wore religiously for a year, and have grown out of the stage when I made my parents call me Mulan and partake in fake tea ceremonies, but I’m not ashamed to say that it’s still my favourite movie.

However, the news that Disney are planning a live-action version has filled me with dread.

Don’t get me wrong, Disney are crying out for a feisty heroine, especially if it's one that’ll expand their range of racial diversity. Heaven knows that Cinderella, their latest live-action venture, was just sterile, Caucasian fairy-tale porn: a beautiful girl, mistreated by her captors until a dash of magic and a whole heap of "true love" gives her the happy ever after she deserves. And the upcoming Beauty and the Beast remake – starring Emma Watson as Belle – will no doubt be the same.

But the thing is, Disney, you don’t mess with your magnum opus.

Mulan, the story of a girl who risks her life to pose as a man and take her elderly father’s place in the war against the Huns – eventually saving all of China through a pretty deft bit of cannon-work – was revolutionary. And as far as Disney films go, it’s criminally underrated.

Nothing like it had been made by the film company before: unflinching in portraying the brutality of war, subversive of patriarchal authority, and challenging the assumption finally that the best a woman can hope to achieve is a good marriage.

Mulan, through intelligence and ingenuity, earns the respect of her male counterparts, single-handedly destroys the Hun army, saves China and makes her family proud.

She’s brave, funny, and tough. She's also a warrior, a strategist, and a loyal daughter. Growing up I wanted to be just like her – and who wouldn't?

The way Mulan switches between a male and female identity, equally embodying traditional qualities of both genders, was a pretty swift and powerful dismantling of heteronormativity for a seven-year-old, even if I had no idea quite what I was watching at the time.

The song "Reflection", with its lyrics "When will my reflection show who I am inside?" is half existential crisis, half soliloquy on gender performance (and oh yeah, a totally banging tune).

And, all that aside, it has Eddie Murphy as Mushu, undeniably the best Disney sidekick in Disney’s best film. There, I said it, all you Lion King fans.

So why the hell mess with perfection?

Mulan kicks some ass in the 1998 film "Mulan"
Mulan kicks some ass in the 1998 film "Mulan"

Disney’s track record is to prettify everything, and ramp up the love story. But a stunning lead actress won’t make sense in a film where a simple haircut transforms Mulan into a man. Nor will a passionate love affair work if they inevitably play down any homoerotic overtones for US audiences. Because, let’s face it, that training camp is a hot bed of homoerotic sexual tension, and I think we all know why Li "Be A Man" Shang feels so betrayed when he finds out Mulan’s a woman.

Based on their remakes so far, letting the Disney of 2015 do Mulan is like giving Kim Kardashian a contouring brush and letting her loose on the Mona Lisa, saying, "Can you make it look like she’s smiling a bit more?". It'll be a mess, devoid of heart and soul, that can’t possibly live up to the brilliant nuance of the original.

Maybe it’s weird a 23-year old is getting so passionate about a Disney film, but I was lucky enough to have Mulan as my role model growing up – strong, independent, witty, fearless and selfless.

Young girls get very few real, positive role models in the media these days, and Disney have a responsibility not to take this one away from them. We don’t need Prince Charming and a beautiful damsel in distress; we need a woman who can save herself. And yes, we need Eddie Murphy as Mushu. Those last two are non-negotiable.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in