Mulan: An Actual Original Take
The trailer for the 2020 live action remake of Mulan came out this weekend, and for once it was not the same old song and dance. So many Disney remakes of late have contested to get you to see your favourite cartoons come to life. We have had shot-for-shot identical trailers (The Lion King), revelations of familiarity (Beauty and the Beast), or songs to encourage you that your childhood has been left intact (Aladdin). How similar these films truly are to their cartoon counterparts is really a case-by-case analysis. However, they are all close enough. They all have made people question their purpose. Is this about cherishing our favourite childhood memories in new ways, or is this really all about renewing rights to these stories?
In comes Mulan: a trailer that did everything to not fall in line with the other remakes. We get a serious toned trailer with crazy wide shots, artistic flair, and oodles of creativity. You can pinpoint which scenes are which in the original cartoon, but for once this actually feels like a refreshing take on a tale of old (well, twenty something years old). For once, we don’t have a blockbuster director at the helm. Instead, we have Niki Caro, whose indie projects prove her eye for spellbinding shots (particularly Whale Rider). She has had some lower key stuff since (including The Zookeeper’s Wife: a humble mainstream effort), but this is what she was meant to do. Her resume calls for large scale artistic works.
While some of the more cartoonish aspects are apparently still being included (Mushu and the lucky cricket), this is more of a deviation from the Disney cartoon, and a look back at the real story of Hua Mulan (whose legacy was captured in the Ballad of Mulan: a folklore poem passed around). With what we’ve seen so far, the mythological take seems to take a precedent; this isn’t an absolutely realistic film, but it is seemingly far from cartoonish either. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a Wuxia adaptation with this film. If that’s the case, consider me super excited. That would be perfect. It would blend the imagination of the Disney cartoon with the scale of the poem, along with the severity of the real tale.
There’s also an interesting cast. Including relative newcomer Liu Yifei, we have iconic actress Gong Li (who has appeared in films like Raise the Red Lantern, Farewell my Concubine, 2046 and more), martial art extraordinaire Jet Li, Jason Scott Lee (who is familiar with Disney already, having been Mowgli in the 1994 live action The Jungle Book and a voice actor for various Lilo & Stitch works), and a recent familiar face with Donnie Yen (Ip Man and Rogue One). We have martial artists, veteran actors, and even Disney alumni. I could dissect every cast member’s filmography, but I think you get the idea.
Considering this cast, who is behind the camera, and that dazzling first trailer we got, Mulan may finally be a live action remake being fully taken advantage of. This promo came around the time of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’s, and I think you can make your own comparisons. With the latter, it looks like a film marketed to Disney fans, using the same-old song and dance. Angelina Jolie looks menacing, sure, but the rest of the film looks to make the same errors as the first Maleficent did. Mulan, on the other hand, finally dares us to question “what will happen?”. No nostalgia glasses. No resting on the songs we knew (apparently, the musical numbers will be instrumental score passages now). No comfort in getting tickets from us being suckers. Mulan 2020 looks to be something different (for now), and it truly is exciting.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.