I learned a lot about Disney's new live-action Mulan back in October of 2018 when I visited the set in New Zealand, but above all the main thing I learned was that the film would make some significant changes to the familiar Disney version of the story. While the basic plot structure remains intact, nearly all the details take the story in new and interesting directions.
Some of the changes, like the splitting of Li Shang into two different characters, will clearly have major impacts on the story being told. Others, like the changes to Mulan's family unit, may not change everything, but they are important nonetheless. In the animated Mulan, the title character is an only child living with her parents and grandmother. In the new movie, the grandmother is nowhere to be seen and Mulan has a sister.
While this isn't the first version of the centuries old Mulan story to give the character a sister, it is a change for Disney, and producer Jason Reed explained on-set that the character was added in order to act as a contrast, by showing how Mulan is different from what is expected among traditional Chinese women during the time period. According to Reed...
It shows a contrast between a woman that is really going outside the normal boundaries and two different approaches to life but they’re both great sisters and friends but it shows the contrast between them. For me anyway, it helps illustrate what’s interesting and unique about Mulan.
In order to know that Mulan is going outside the boundaries of what is expected, we need to see those boundaries clearly defined, and that will be done by Mulan's sister. In the animated film we saw that Mulan did not fit in, but it was does by making her clumsy when she was supposed to be graceful. We're given the impression she wants to fit in, at least to some degree, but has some trouble. Here, it seems the idea is that Mulan doesn't really want the life that has been set out in front of her.
We know that the new Mulan will open with a scene with the lead character, and one assumes, her sister, as children. This scene was added in order to show that Mulan's unique character is something that has been part of her for years. By including a sister character, we'll likely see how a traditional Chinese child is expected to act, quite differently than Mulan does, and how both the sisters have grown up over time. Their differences won't make them adversaries in any way, Jason Reed says the two will still be close, but also quite different.
It's unclear how big the sister's role is in the larger film. She may disappear once Mulan runs off to join the army, or perhaps we'll see more of the homefront throughout the movie as well. Considering how many other ways the new film is changing up the Disney formula, it's certainly possible.
Pre-sale tickets for Mulan are now available.