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Mulan 2020 v Mulan 1998: All the changes the live-action makes to Disney animation

From no Mushu or music to the new love interest and Chi - we've broken down the changes Mulan live action movie makes to the animation.

Published: Monday, 7th September 2020 at 12:18 pm

When it comes to the Mulan live action movie it's less a case of Reflection and more 'Who is this girl I see?'.


The latest live action movie has finally been released on Disney+ (with premier access), but it comes with some changes.

Sign up to Disney+ for £59.99 a year and £5.99 a month (Mulan is £19.99 with premier access)

While the 1998 animation featured Mushu, grandma, Shang-Yu, and Li Shang this movie takes things back to the 'true story of Mulan' inspired by the Chinese ballad.

We already knew the movie wasn't a musical and that a few key figures had changed, but we've taken a look at what other changes were made to Mulan - and what was added.

Here's our Mulan 2020 v Mulan 1998 breakdown.

Read More: Mulan live action review, how does it hold up?

Mulan isn't a musical

Mulan 1998
Mulan 1998 Disney

The original animated Disney movie had a strong musical tone, from I'll Make a Man (Out of You) to Reflection - which has been re-recorded by Christina Aguilera. There's no singing in this version, but the instrumental score includes nods to the famous tracks. The key characters also speak certain lines from the songs. "Bring honor to us" is said rather than sung in Honor to Us All.

The warriors speak lines from A Girl Worth Fighting For too as the guys joke about what kind of woman they'd like: "I don't care what she looks like, I care what she cooks like," and so on, with Mulan saying she'd like a courageous and smart girl.

Christina Aguilera has also released a new song Loyal, Brave, True for the Mulan soundtrack.

Read More: How Mulan includes the original's songs

New female villain aka the Witch

Mulan witch
There's a new witch in Mulan © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In the animated movie, the main villain was Shan-Yu of the Huns accompanied by his hawk. In this version, the enemy is the Bori Khan, led by Jason Scott Lee's character as well as the witch Xian Lang (Gong Li).

The female villain focuses more on the feminist story, showing how things can turn out differently if people don't accept someone, or they veer from the warrior tenets of Loyal, Brave, True.

The witch can shapeshift and channels her Chi showing what the power can do too. She's really less a villain and more the tragic heroine of the story with her parallel story.

Mulan has Chi

Mulan is more war focused
Mulan is more war focused Disney

Rather than Mulan heading off to train with no ability, this Mulan has skills. We see early on she rides her horse, practices with a sticks, and can climb roofs when chasing a chicken. Her father tells her off, insisting she needs to to hide these skills, her Chi.

Chi is the force energy, yin and yang - a belief in Chinese culture. It's seen as natural energy. Controlling the Chi is called Chi Gung, which is seen as an art form and a way to hone martial art skills.

Mulan channels this to fight and is able to perform great moves and overcome the enemy by drawing on it. While her ultimate smart move of trying to create an avalanche still plays out, her skills on the battlefield feature heavily.

Mulan has no Mushu

Mushu from 1998 Mulan
Mushu doesn't look impressed at being axed Disney

Yep, there's no little dragon Mushu in Mulan. The guardian Mushu (Eddie Murphy) isn't replaced, but his role is sort of covered by the phoenix guardian. Mulan's father asks the ancestors to look over his daughter and we see the phoenix flying above her in times of need - though it never speaks.

Alas, that also means there are no wise cracks, but director Niki Caro explained that for the movie to be 'real' there could be no Mushu.

Read More: Three reasons why there's no Mushu in Mulan

Cricket is now a man

Instead of the "lucky bug" cricket, who is another sidekick alongside Mushu, Mulan has a friend in camp called Cricket.

The unassuming man is a bit clumsy but ends up being quite good with a bow.

Li Shang is replaced with Hong Hui

Li Shang

There was outcry when fans realised that Mulan's love interest had changed. In the original, the general's son Li Shang trains the recruits and ultimately falls for Mulan. The team behind the new movie explained the change was down to the #MeToo movement - they felt Mulan's officer becoming her love interest felt a bit off given his position of power. The fan pushback was largely down to the view Li Shang is a bisexual icon as he falls for Mulan before she reveals her true identity.

In this version, another trainee Honghui takes Li Shang's place as he teases Mulan and has a bit of a rivalry with her.

Over time they respect each other and develop a bond. We won't spoil it but the end scene actually focuses more on Mulan than her love interest...

Tung takes over the authority figure role.

Grandmother Fa is gone

Grandmother Fa

The funny grandmother is gone from the new movie. We're not going to lie, we did miss her witty lines.

Mulan has a sister

Mulan's sister

Instead, we have Mulan's sister, which is more in line with the original takes on the Chinese ballad. Her sister is more in line with the traditional view of a female, creating a contrast to Mulan.

The live-action movie added a sister to give Mulan another reason to sign up. The sister doesn't actually feature that much, but she is taken from the 1600s novel Romance of Sui and Tang, a well-known version of the Mulan story.

Mulan's character

Mulan 2020

Who is that girl I see? - it's a fair question when faced with the new Mulan. Longer hair, less clumsy, more of a warrior, this Mulan already has skills. She's definitely less clumsy in camp too.

Mulan chooses to reveal herself

In the animation, Mulan is injured in battle after saving Li Shang. When the doctor checks her over it becomes clear she's a woman. In the 2020 movie, Mulan chooses to reveal herself. She attempts to tell Commander Tung earlier in the movie but he gets in there first, promising to match her with his daughter.

Then, when the battle is raging, and Mulan has faced the Witch, she heads back to the men choosing to show herself, hair down and as her true self.

In the Chinese ballad, Mulan serves in the army for 12 years without being discovered!

No montage and no hair cut

Mulan cuts hair

Everyone loves the original montage which sees Mulan prepping to leave her family, and slicing her hair off all set to an intense backing track.

The famous make-up wiping scene has completely gone (as there's no Reflection), but the hair slicing is also gone. We see Mulan leaving in a flashback as she sees her sister holding her mother's hand as they all sleep.

Mulan doesn't actually cut her hair in the live action movie, she instead ties it up ready to whip it out later in battle.

Caro has said that the original Mulan rejected the made-up reflection, but in this version, Mulan actually sheds the armour and the masculine version of a warrior to embrace herself and her own skills.

There are references to Mulan not being able to reach her potential while denying herself. Until she embraces that, she's isn't fully herself. Later we see her, hair flowing and in her tunic minus some of the armour, running into battle.

Mulan also had no need to cut her hair as soldiers were known to have long hair.

Mulan 2020 has a different ending

There are two endings really for the animated movie. Mulan asks Li Shang: "Would you like to stay for dinner?" with her grandma shouting: "Do you want to stay forever?"

We next see Mushu partying with the ancestors as he's embraced into the fold finally.

In this version, there's no Li Shang, there's no grandma, there's no Mushu... and the scene doesn't really play out in the same way. We won't spoil it for you.

PG 13 Rating

Mulan is the first live action movie from Disney to get a PG 13 rating. The rating is largely down to the more violent take. We see Mulan in battle, we see the villains killing the soldiers and Mulan takes out a few herself.

It's still pretty tame – don't think Game of Thrones – but it earns that rating.

Mulan 2020 has an all-Asian cast

The original animation has a mix of voice actors, with many non-Asian voices in the mix. The new Mulan's cast went back to Mulan's roots and cast Asian actors. 

Mulan is now available on Disney+ with premier access for £19.99. If you don't yet have Disney+ it's £59.99 for a year and £5.99 for a month.


Disney has also announced Mulan will be available for free in December. 


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