It remains to be seen if Disney's live-action Mulan is a proper musical (like its animated predecessor), but its director has assured that music will be a key element in the film. Following the runaway box office success of Disney's live-action Beauty and the Beast, pressure is mounting on similar upcoming live-action productions like Tim Burton's Dumbo and Jon Favreau's The Lion King to not only deliver a production of equal quality, but also the commercial turnout that comes with it.
Niki Caro is calling the shots on the live-action Mulan, but unlike Dumbo and The Lion King, the live-action adaptation is facing a separate set of concerns. Those concerns stem from a previous interview with Caro, where she indicated that Mulan will not feature any songs. Released in 1998, the Disney animated version of Mulan - starring Ming-Na Wen as the Chinese soldier heroine - features such memorable tunes as "Reflection" by Broadway star Lea Salonga, as the singing voice of the Mulan character.
"The live-action is based on that inspirational Chinese ballad and on the animated Disney classic. We're still exploring the role that music's going to play in it, but for sure there will be music."
Amid emerging concerns in Hollywood over "whitewashing" productions - a controversy that plagued Scarlett Johansson's Ghost in the Shell ahead of its underwhelming opening over the weekend - Caro also said she is keenly aware that Mulan must be culturally authentic. She told THR that she plans on working with experts on Chinese history to ensure as much:
"In all my work that is centered in cultures not my own, I hope that comes through, because that is incredibly important to me. When I made Whale Rider, I saw that to be specific and authentic is to be universal, and I've continued to work in an identical way ever since. As the projects get bigger, the more certain I am that cultural authenticity and specificity is the only way to approach my work."
As for other Disney projects, the director appeared to sidestep THR's question about once being considered to direct the upcoming Brie Larson MCU movie Captain Marvel. Responding with a laugh, Caro says:
"I love Captain Marvel, and I enjoyed my conversations with the Marvel people very much. But I'm committed to Mulan, so that's what I'll be doing."
Now that she's completely committed to Mulan, fans of the Disney original should have faith in what Caro will do with the live-action version. The filmmaker, whose directing credits also include North Country (which earned Charlize Theron a Best Actress Oscar nomination) and Disney's feel-good true-life high school track tale McFarland, USA (which starred double Oscar-winner Kevin Costner), clearly has the wherewithal to attract Oscar-caliber talent to her projects (Whale Rider also earned then-12-year-old Keisha Castle Hughes a Best Actress Oscar nod).
Coming off her work in The Zookeeper's Wife with two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain, Mulan fans will hopefully end up being pleased with the New Zealand director's interpretation of the time-honored tale, however musical (or not) it winds up being.