Disney may as well be in the banking industry because they can print their own money. Every movie, any genre that comes out of Walt Disney Studios–be it direction, production, or just as a benefactor–churns out more green than you would see at a Boston Celtic championship parade (or Snoop Dogg’s back yard).
There have now been 13 live-action adaptations, or as Disney refers to their work “Reimaginings,” and they have all been profitable (shout out to Box Office Mojo for the screen shot):
Beauty and the Beast is still the standard bearer for these things. Prior to 2016, these new takes on classics from the Mouse’s vault were experimental, a chance to see what could happen if these were in real life. Candidly, Maleficient shouldn’t count because that was a character taken from a classic and thrust into the bleak, green-hued limelight.
Beast changed all that showing that a one-to-one adaptation to classic view could work as a stand-alone film, not one with whimsy and novel characters, but featuring a real lead who didn’t look he or she stumbled from the set of an off-Broadway play.
It was magical. Critics gave it somewhere in the 1.5 thumbs up to the 75% range. Audiences really enjoyed it. Prior to that was The Jungle Book, which was captivating and beloved. It garnered better reviews but people went to the theaters more for the story. That’s when Film Twitter and other vociferous groups gave their opinions about who could be next.
Dumbo was next, and flopped as much as the elephant’s ears critically and financially. Aladdin was next, and despite its rocky beginning with trailer, the movie surprised fans and critics alike. The Lion King is coming, as of the timing of this post, and that will push Beauty and her Beast off that Disney mountaintop as it promises to get close to the $1 billion hallowed ground.
Then came a revelation of a teaser trailer in Mulan for what we will all behold in March 2020.
Notice the Difference?
We all know the story — the Japanese Imperial Army has an edict that only one man can represent a family in fighting for the country. Hua Mulan, the eldest daughter of aging and ailing warrior, takes country pride over feminine perception and takes on the persona of Hua Jun to fight in his stead.
Yet, as you are watching this mystical and enigmatic trailer, fans noticed something different — there is no one-to-one envisioning here. This appears like an entirely new film based on the same familiar story.
Quiet. Graceful. Composed. Discipline. These are the qualities we see in a good wife. These are the qualities in Mulan.
If Captain Marvel or the scene in Avengers: Endgame featuring what could be the “A-Force” really bothered your misogynistic neanderthal way of viewing movies, then you’re really going to hate Mulan. This movie will guarantee you know those aforementioned words are all the same qualities of a samurai warrior too. (Study Bushido, it’s true.)
There have been countless side-by-side depictions from Disney’s animation to the live dupe, but there is something strikingly different about Mulan. Whether it’s the sanctity of the Japanese Warrior’s code, the humility of having to be something you’re not to fulfill your purpose, or the impressive audacity to sending in a woman to do a man’s job, this particular remake needed something…extra. And clearly, it’s getting it.
Who is That Girl I See?
The extra is how Mulan is positioned in the remake. The animated movie was great in how it showed the dynamics between Mulan and her family, Mulan and Mushu (who may not be in the movie…another difference to stress the tone of this film), and most importantly, within herself.
Notice, there was no singing either. How many Samurai do you think were singing “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” while they were training for war? None. If this is going to be a true-to-life adaptation, war is the paramount focus. The internal conflict is its theme. And the heralded champion we get won’t be judged by her vocal chords or how “lovely” she looks while in combat.
This will be all about her fight. Period. Ergo, Disney’s learning curve.
Disney has worked remarkably hard to make the live-action remakes as close to the animated classic, but with Mulan, it seems they realized how to make these movies singular in nature, instead of the same movie that features real people. And that is an amazing revelation because their movies are known for many things, but the gripping, emotional themes and stories make them masterpieces.
Sometimes, art doesn’t need to imitate life…it just needs to be real life.
The Quest for Honor
That is a theme synonymous in movies of all genres. Rocky fought for it. Gladiator was entrenched in it. Saving Private Ryan was fueled by it. Armageddon defended the planet because of it. Whether the movie is animated by a computer, drawn by hand, or acting in real life, honor is something that resonates among all people.
But there is something a little more impactful if done by people in a foreign land without any sidekick crickets and dragons with stunted growth.
That trailer gave us everything we wanted from a major motion picture, and nothing we expected out of a live motion “reimagining.” Sweeping vistas. True-to-life movement (i.e., martial arts, bushido). Mood to match the setting (e.g., it’s war…there’s no high-kicking chorus on the battlefield). A serious tone that seems to be woven in and out of this combative film.
Mulan promises to be the live adaptation where Disney figured it out — their movies are stellar for a reason and they will always make money, but if they want them to be remembered, really cherished for generations, they need to do something the animated classics have always done before now.
These films must be made to stand on their own. And with her own two feet, it appears this film about Hua Mulan will do just that.
Mulan features an acclaimed international cast including: Yifei Liu as Mulan; Donnie Yen as Commander Tung; Jason Scott Lee as Böri Khan; Yoson An as Cheng Honghui; Gong Li as Xianniang and Jet Li as the Emperor. (BTW, live action of Donnie Yen, Yoson An, Jason Scott Lee, and Jet Li is going to be so, so dope for Martial Arts students and nerds alike, like yours truly.)
The film is directed by Niki Caro from a screenplay by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Elizabeth Martin & Lauren Hynek based on the narrative poem “The Ballad of Mulan.”
Mulan opens nationwide March 27, 2020.