First of all, I will call all spades, spades, and say I grew up on original Disney animations, though am not a purist in any way, and Mulan was inherently my favorite from the get - and no, I had no idea I would grow up to be the very much biased feminist who writes you today and whose biases will inevitably come through in the text to follow (proceed if you will).
This attempt at a very serious sounding introduction is not in any way to deny that this one who writes you would also 100% have been shamelessly and mercilessly elbowing little kids out the way and sitting at the best seat in the theater to watch the live-action version of this, my favorite ever "princess" (say what you, or I will, I can never avoid calling that 'little group' that). But, having seen it now, I'm wondering, what message does its ride on the latest 'feminist wave' (patient zero being Frozen) really convey?
Let's get down to the nitty gritty, shall we? Apart from the painfully obvious fact we all missed Mushu, which I won't even get into, the remake as its own thing is an overall enjoyable movie, if I force myself enough to cough up some objectivity out of my own brain.
Undeniably, the production is at a sky-high level, and it's just gorgeous to watch, the production design alone is insane. We should also call attention to the fact that they seemed to really have strived to keep most levels of the production, certainly with the cast at least (I admit, I can't help myself being in awe of *the* Gong Li), within the Asian-only realm.
Alas, it is to my great dishonor (on you, on your cow!) that I just have got to say it is this same legendary Gong Li that was just the biggest, fattest "HUH?!" of this almost two-decade interval between the two movies. And thus she shall remain.
Please see if you all follow me: the whole point of the original Mulan was that she had a set place in society and a role with functions that were expected of her from the get; however not only did she never lose her grace and humility as a woman, her true character, really, by assuming voluntarily the identity of a man, but she also then clawed her way to victory not for herself, but for her nation, regardless of her gender.
This gender thing is something we see when all her soldier friends basically turn into drag queens for a hot second to invade the palace - which is just awesome? Also, all this action happens after she's left behind to die in the snow when her identity's discovered - but still, in the end, she persists, and isn't she the one who demonstrates what true honor is?
On top of that, darling, she still gets her man. Which she doesn't in the live-action, because princes are out of the easily understandable, commercial feminist narrative.
Which leads us to the sudden popping up of this mysterious witch whose empathy with Mulan is actually very ingenious, because it comes from the fact that each of them is one side of the same coin, both at the underbelly of a same system, but this witch just happened to fight against it with the bad guys. Right. Empathy? Check, unquestionable. Feminist opportunistic selling point? Check. Believable once you see it? Nope? Can you un-see it? Also no.
The mere existence of this character wants to highlight or sort of awkwardly reinforce something that was already there, at the core of the original. In the original, Mulan won the military challenge in a workout sequence to a song called "I'll Make a Man Out of You": need I say more, for goodness' sakes? This sort of commercial move waters down Mulan the warrior, changes the pure balance that was already there, that of Mulan the honorable daughter. It already had its "moral of the story" to begin with, and in much more subtle and beautiful ways (not to mention, quotable): to prove it, I'll leave you with this image…
…which would be the last thing I'd say if I just didn't want to ask: Disney, why, though?