The first trailer for Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan reveals how the non-musical movie will incorporate iconic songs. When it releases in 2020, Mulan will be Disney's 16th live-action remake of one of their beloved animated properties (although this goes down to 13 if you don't count the films made before 2010's Alice in Wonderland, widely considered to be the movie that kick-started the current trend). Director Niki Caro has been tasked with translating the animated film to the big screen with a majority Asian cast and a budget that reportedly makes it the most expensive of Disney's remakes. Fans obviously have high expectations for this nostalgic favorite, but the final product may be very different from what they're expecting.
Much has already been made about how much this remake will deviate from Disney's original story. Various characters have been cut or swapped out for a similar figure, including Mulan's love interest Shang; Mushu the dragon won't appear (although allegedly, a phoenix will be in the film serving a similar role), and the final product will not be a musical. The latter point has been the topic of much debate, with rumors swirling over the veracity of this claim. It's been previously reported that the cast will not sing the songs from the original (which were written by composer Matthew Wilder and lyricist David Zippel), but that they will be presented as instrumental versions. We got our first glimpse of this in the Mulan teaser trailer, where you can hear a slowed down instrumental take on the song “Reflection.”
This proved somewhat controversial for many Mulan fans, given how immensely popular many of the film’s songs are, particularly “I’ll Make a Man Out Of You” and “Reflection”. It was also rather surprising from a business point-of-view. Disney’s remakes have typically been very focused on recreating the most beloved and marketable parts of the original properties, and that usually means the musical numbers remain intact. There are exceptions, such as Dumbo’s almost total exclusion of its iconic songs except for one, but they're often cited more as cautionary tales for the studio than examples to follow (Dumbo has yet to gross its budget back domestically; compare that to Aladdin, a film that takes great pains to include its musical numbers almost intact from the original movie, which recently passed $900 million worldwide).
But Mulan is taking a decidedly different path compared to its live-action remake predecessors. It's an action-driven Disney movie on a grand scale that's less concerned with recreating the original film beat for beat, as many of these remakes have. Given the cultural importance of the Hua Mulan ballad to China, and how much Disney are dependent on the Chinese box office for those record breaking profits, it makes sense to tailor this film to suit that audiences' tastes more than those of the primarily American audiences who grew up with the film. The original Disney version of Mulan played a major role in helping the company get a new foothold in the country after a major falling out with their government, and it's a relationship they are keen to maintain.
But, of course, there’s no way Disney would entirely cut the music out. These songs are too beloved and too major a part of the company’s brand to scrap entirely. Reinterpreting them in an instrumental way and weaving them through the story in an organic manner, one that doesn’t require big song and dance numbers, is a smart and creatively interesting move. These movies can too often feel like tracing paper versions of the animated originals, to diminishing returns. Mulan taking a different direction not only shows Disney that a new way is possible, but it gives these movies a reason for being beyond corporate synergy. For those who loved the original’s songs, the animated film will always be there, but there’s something to be said for a new generation getting a Mulan movie whose priorities are more about cultural heft than corporate interest.
- Mulan (2020) release date: Mar 27, 2020