Let me clear the air about my background first. I am a Vietnamese-American who was weaned on Disney VHS's and DVDs since 1999. My first words were "Pooh Bear," I had a stuffed animal of Stitch since I was 7, and I would always wake up early Saturday mornings to watch those movie-based cartoon shows. As such, I am prone to much biases; one of them not being aware of the historical inaccuracies that Disney brought to my childish mind, like the colonization of Matoaka (Pocahontas).
However, as an Asian kid growing up with a specific VHS, Mulan was the first form of Asian representation in media that I had ever seen in my entire life. Something that I would not see for a very, very long time. I wanted to be as brave as Ping with a sword; I wanted to be a pioneer just like Mulan. I would listen to "Reflection" and sing-along with my sister. I fanboyed when I got to fight with him/her in Kingdom Hearts II, shooting fireworks and fireballs at Heartless and Shang Yu. With the original animation, there was a sense of childlike wonder and pride I had in Mulan.
This remake was entirely bullshit to begin with. This was basically a cash-grab made by Disney to milk a Chinese legend for $30 on their Netflix-like service. And it didn't even matter cause I got to see it free on YouTube. There are three key differences between the original 1998's animation and the 2020 remake: the musicality, the changes to three main characters, and the theme of LGBT+ representation/sexism/gender roles in the movie. This article will cover the first two topics.
The original Mulan is always, and will be forever known, as a musical. With classical earworms, such as "I'll Make a Man Out of You," "Honor to Us All," and most importantly, "Reflection," the songs reinforced the wonder that is Disney-animated music. The remake doesn't do any of this shit, in fact, the closest they get to musicality is using instrumental versions within scenes the songs should have been sung at. The only saving grace they have with song-choice is getting Christina Aguilera reperforming "Reflection" after 22 years—and she still got it. The absence of a musical strips it of that signature essence of sing-alone nostalgia and imagination.
After this remake, the signature personalities of the original characters are null and void. The most prominent figures, Mulan, Shang and Mushu, have been retconned and ret-gonned from existence.
The sin concerning Mulan is the fact that she can do backflips..as a child. And I'm not talking through those stereotypical-Asian rope tricks that make them look like they're swimming in midair. Mulan is described by her father as a masculine spirit, trapped within a women's body, more focused on stunts and mischief than looking pretty for the matchmaker. The main problem with this is that she is skilled with a sword already prepared for combat, pretty cocky and haughty about her skills. In the original animation, she did not know a single thing about war or battle; as such, in the remake, she is denied that crucial character arc of transforming from a naïve Mulan to a battle-hardened Ping. It's like ordering pizza, and then proceeding to put a frozen one in the oven, just because.
Shang has been split into two personalities: the commanding officer, and the brash, testosterone-junkie recruit that was implied to be Mulan's love interest (because it would be deemed inappropriate for a military commander to be in a relationship with a lower soldier due to power differences and the #MeToo movement. I agree that would not align with today's times, and they should have dropped it; however, I feel that their reasons about getting rid of Shang--and his personality--is unnecessary. If they wanted to keep Shang and make his role impactful by avoiding a sexual relationship/connotation (yes, unfortunately, I have to describe it as such) they should have emphasized his role in breaking down stereotypes concerning Mulan. And if they wanted to avoid this connotation, it should be noted that Mulan and Shang become a couple AFTER the war is finished (meaning that their duties as soldiers are finished), and in time, get married in the animated sequel.
And lastly comes Eddie Murphy's Mushu, the lovable fire-breathing dragon...who could not be here because apparently he was too Americanized and not accurate to the lore...even though it's perfectly acceptable to add a shapeshifting witch to the scene. Instead of the iconic mascot, he is replaced as the Fa family's guardian phoenix. Divine intervention was not considered a driving force in the original movie, especially with Mushu. At it's worst, it's treating him as a match to blow up the Huns, and at its best, it's treating him as comic relief. Mulan basically had to do all the swordplay and training by hand. In the remake, the phoenix is an emissary of "chi magic" that guides Mulan towards her journey and gives her the power of flight, giving her a superpower that makes all of her training meaningless, as she proceeded to curb-stomp the Hun to his death. In the animation, the guardian spirit was used more as a metaphor for inner strength and believing in yourself--which Mushu assisted her ancestor with. Now, it's just a spiritual steroid for an anti-climatic finish.
For part ii, visit: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/an-asians-perspective-on-2020s-mulan-pt-ii