Disney is pretty much the Empire from Star Wars at this point, only with less creativity. Right now their main exports, aside from Marvel movies, are terrible adaptations of classic books (Artemis Fowl, A Wrinkle In Time) and terrible live-action remakes of their classic movies that completely miss the point of why the originals were good.
But of all the bad live-action remakes, the remake of Mulan might be the worst. This is a movie that people were divided about before it even came out, mainly because it was eliminating the characters of Mushu and sorta-bisexual icon Li Shang. But others wanted to see it succeed because it was supposedly a more “faithful” and culturally-accurate version of the Mulan legend. More on that later.
Then it came out, and it was… amazing. Amazingly bad. It managed to miss everything about what made the 1998 animated film work as a story, and as a feminist work. One of the biggest problems was that it turned Mulan from a relatable, ordinary girl with immense willpower and strategic thinking… into a Strong Female Character with ubermensch powers who can do anything. She became Asian Rey.
And one of the worst aspects of this change is that the movie devalues female intelligence. The original (meaning the 1998 film) gave Mulan a story arc that emphasized her fierce intelligence as well as her fighting ability. It’s clear in the film that she is not going to be able to rely on her strength alone, because… she’s a woman in an army full of men, and men are, in general, physically stronger than women.
So instead, we are shown that Mulan compensates with her brains – her ability to figure out a way to the top of the pole, turning her disadvantages into advantages; her clever triggering of an avalanche; her use of her combat skills in unconventional ways to defeat her enemies, and so on. From the earliest scenes of the movie, we are shown that Mulan is a problem-solver, a quick thinker, and a strategist. This – along with her courage and determination – is ultimately what leads her to glory, not her brute strength.
Hmm, a realistic yet uplifting message for young girls, about how they can use their intelligence to stand as equals to men? How can we ruin this?
Why, make it so that Mulan succeeds through brute strength, of course! No need for that silly intelligence to succeed and become a legendary warrior. Mulan 2020, instead of featuring Mulan using her intellect to reach the top of that pole and retrieve the arrow, has her just floating up the mountainside with a bucket of water on each arm. She’s unbothered by the physical weights that are causing the mere mortal men to flop on the ground and cry, because she’s superior to them. Yay, brute strength! Who needs intelligence and problem-solving abilities?
And of course, they take one of Mulan’s greatest triumphs from her, namely her use of an avalanche to wipe out the enemy army. A great moment that highlights that brains can beat brute strength, and gives a female character a win that her male friends could not.
So what do they do? Well, the avalanche is no longer a deliberate act triggered by Mulan. Instead, it’s a dumb accident caused by the bad guys… because their aim is bad. Something Mulan did NOT engineer deliberately, and had no way of knowing would happen, and thus cannot be credited for because there’s zero indication that she intended it to happen that way.
They took away the female lead’s biggest strategic achievement.
In fact… Mulan is kind of stupid in this movie. At no point does she show any strategic skills or problem-solving abilities. Even her father’s demand that she hide her chi (groan) isn’t handled logically – she shows off her ubermensch abilities at the matchmaker’s, but later she chides herself for not hiding her chi… while disguised as a man. And she’s too dumb to realize that if chi is supposedly a male-only thing (groan) then she can use it openly while masquerading as a man.
And this lack of respect for intelligence even seeps into the ending. In the 1998 movie, the offer from the Emperor is that he wants her to be his advisor. He wants her to be a PROFESSIONAL smart person who will help him govern China wisely. In the live action film? He offers her a job as a personal guard. No smarts needed, just chi and a sword.
So yes… in the name of female empowerment, they made a smart, capable, likable heroine who proved that you don’t need brute strength to be successful…. into a bimbo who uses brute strength.