This spring, Mulan will return to theaters in a big-budgeted and spectacle-stuffed live-action re-imagining. Liu Yifei stars as Mulan, a legendary Chinese warrior whose path to heroism began with an act of gender-bending rebellion, masquerading as a man so she could join the Imperial Army to fight for her family and nation.
A slew of Disney’s live-action adaptations have doggedly followed in the footsteps of their animated counterparts, sometimes to their detriment. But from the look of Mulan’s first teaser trailer, director Niki Caro is charting a very different course from the 1998 animated adventure.
Take a look.
There’s a lot of great things going on in this teaser. First off, that aspect ratio is luxuriously wide, which will allow for landscapes to sing and actions scenes to soar. The color palette is gorgeous, reminiscent of the films of Zhang Yimou. The turn from obedient Mulan to warrior Mulan is visually striking and emotionally charged. And the action scenes of her slo-mo leaping, swinging, and slaying are absolutely exhilarating. But there are some curious omissions if you compare this trailer to the 1998 movie.
Noticeably absent are Mulan’s creature sidekicks, the dragon Mushu and the cricket Cri-Kee, and her love interest Li Shang. And they are not just missing from the trailer. Last year, HuffPo reported Shang would be replaced with an alternate love interest named Chen Honghui, an army recruit who initially envies the masterful Mulan, as he hopes to be the best in their ranks. As for the cuddly cohorts, The DisInsider reports they’ve both been booted in favor of a phoenix, which might be the bird spotted at the 1:08 mark in the teaser above. Unknown is if he’ll talk. Unlikely is that he’ll be voiced by Eddie Murphy.
The biggest change from the animated Mulan sounds like it will be the music. Though the dialogue nods to the memorable ‘98 song “Honor To Us All,” there’s no indication in this teaser that this remake will be a musical. And that’s not news. Cairo said as early as 2017 there’d be no songs in her Mulan. Though it seems likely some of the instrumentals will resurface.
So what do we think?
Frankly, I’m torn on all of the above! I loved the original Mulan and looked forward to seeing the music and Mushu re-imagined in vibrant CGI and lively song numbers. However, I’ve cringed at Disney’s gratuitous self-plagiarism when it’s come to “re-imaginings” like Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. I was far more thrilled by Cinderella and Jungle Book, which shook things up enough to give these classic tales a fresh feel. Then there’s Dumbo, which went way too far when it came to re-imagining, and lost its heart and hero amongst Tim Burton flourishes. However, the trailer gives me chills—in a good way! The focus of it and its accompanying synopsis suggests these changes are all about better centering the story of Mulan on Mulan.
Here’s the official plot synopsis from Disney UK:
Acclaimed filmmaker Niki Caro brings the epic tale of China’s legendary warrior to life in Disney’s Mulan, in which a fearless young woman risks everything out of love for her family and her country to become one of the greatest warriors China has ever known.
When the Emperor of China issues a decree that one man per family must serve in the Imperial Army to defend the country from Northern invaders, Hua Mulan, the eldest daughter of an honoured warrior, steps in to take the place of her ailing father. Masquerading as a man, Hua Jun, she is tested every step of the way and must harness her inner-strength and embrace her true potential. It is an epic journey that will transform her into an honoured warrior and earn her the respect of a grateful nation…and a proud father. Mulan features a celebrated international cast that includes: Yifei Liu as Mulan; Donnie Yen as Commander Tung; Jason Scott Lee as Böri Khan; Yoson An as Cheng Honghui; with Gong Li as Xianniang and Jet Li as the Emperor. 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.
With a greater focus on Mulan’s struggles internal and external, the song numbers might have been a distraction as might have been a quipping sidekick. So instead, Caro and her cast are offering a more mature look at this fascinating heroine. While a part of me groans for the loss of songs like “Reflection” and “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You,” I’m deeply excited to see what the director behind Whale Rider and The Zookeeper’s Wife will bring to Mulan.
Mulan opens March 27 2020.
Header Image Source: Disney