The Tim Burton-directed Alice in Wonderland was the billion dollar-grossing film that kicked off Disney’s practice of reimagining stories that it had previously adapted into 2D animated films, as modern live-action/CGI features instead. It wasn’t until Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella and especially Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book that Disney’s live-action fairy tale re-tellings began generating widespread critical acclaim, in addition to doing big business at the global box office. Next month’s live-action Beauty and the Beast musical aims to keep the Mouse House’s winning streak alive in this respect, as does Disney’s live-action take on the Chinese legend, Mulan.
Mulan was previously adapted by Disney as a 2D animated film in 1998, with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Ming-Na Wen voicing the movie’s namesake: the young Chinese woman who passes herself off as a man, in order to join the army when her homeland is attacked. Disney’s live-action Mulan has yet to make any official casting announcements, but it does have a 2018 theatrical release date, a script from writing duo Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) – and according to the latest report on the project, a director to boot.
THR is reporting that Niki Caro (Whale Rider) is set to direct the live-action version of Mulan, with Bill Kong – producer of such Chinese martial arts epics as Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yimou’s Hero – serving as an executive producer on the film. Caro has worked alongside Disney before on the acclaimed, true story-based sports drama McFarland, USA and was rumored to be among those in consideration to direct Disney and Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel movie, for a good chunk of 2016. Suffice it to say, Caro’s involvement with Mulan takes her out of the running to helm Captain Marvel.
This news about Caro, whose next film (WWII book-turned movie The Zookeeper’s Wife) hits theaters this March, is arguably both encouraging – and somewhat disappointing news. While many were hopeful that Disney would indeed recruit a female director to take the helm on the live-action Mulan adaptation, the hope was also that the Mouse House would be bringing on either an Asian or an Asian-American filmmaker, at the same time. Given the rich cultural themes and heritage of the Mulan story, this seemed to be as good an opportunity as any for Disney to continue breaking new ground and recruit its second woman of color filmmaker for a nine-digit Hollywood production (following on the heels of director Ava DuVernay being hired to helm Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time adaptation).
That being said: Caro has proven herself to be a culturally-sensitive and thoughtful storyteller several times over now, and THR‘s report further assures that the filmmaker will be engaged in “extensive conversations with Chinese cultural consultants and working closely with Disney’s own China-based team,” including Kong, in order to ensure that the live-action version of Mulan is a culturally respectful adaptation. Also lending credibility to previous reports that Mulan will not whitewash its cast (as an early draft of the screenplay did), THR reports that the film’s production team is focusing their casting efforts in mainland China, including that for the movie’s namesake. That alone gives the film a one-up on such upcoming movies as the Ghost in the Shell live-action adaptation, featuring Scarlett Johansson as the (formerly Japanese) Major.