Mulan suits up

Sarah Posted by Sarah at July 8, 2019 13:30:10 July 8, 2019 13:30:10

The Disney live-action remake train CAN’T STOP WON’T STOP, so before we even get to The Lion King and Maleficent 2, the remaining remakes for the year, we have a teaser for Mulan, the first live-action remake of 2020. I have not been super enthusiastic about these remakes, as they mostly avoid any opportunity for reinvention and just deliver the same damn thing, but with people (exception: Pete’s Dragon, the least successful and most imaginative of the remakes). The Lion King will be an almost shot-for-shot remake of the cartoon, which besides the money on the table, is just an exercise in Why. But I am feeling this Mulan teaser. I like the scope and scale of it. It feels big—unlike Aladdin, which looks weirdly cheap and small—and it looks appropriately epic. Of course, it looks virtually nothing like the cartoon, which is a problem for some people.

Live-action Mulan will not have songs—let’s be honest, Mulan only has one memorable song anyway, this is not The Little Mermaid with its peerless soundtrack—and it will not have Mushu OR Shang. I feel the loss of that last one a little bit, but I am not convinced anyone will end up missing the vaguely racist magic dragon. Reimagining Mulan for the 21st century means having the chance to go back and fix some sh-t that hasn’t aged well with the cartoon.

I’m not mad at Disney deciding to angle a new Mulan more firmly at Chinese audiences. It’s just good business, given the strength of the Chinese box office, but it’s also narratively sound, since Mulan is based on Chinese folklore. This is not an undersea mermaid kingdom—the Northern Wei Dynasty, the setting of The Ballad of Mulan, is a real time and place, with a real culture of its own. Take all the liberty with fantasy you want, but when you’re telling a story rooted in a real culture, you owe at least SOME fidelity to the source. Reimagining Mulan in a way more suited to its folkloric roots is fitting, and still offers plenty of opportunity for invention (the action in the teaser looks sharp, and we’re introduced to a distinctive warrior-red color palette). This teaser is showing us a Mulan more firmly grounded in that particular society as it was in that time at that place, but with a distinct cinematic flair. It’s still going to be the story of a woman who dresses as a man to join the army and fight, but it looks a lot more rooted in real tradition and not the Disney-fied fairytale.

For the most part, though, people don’t seem to want reinvention from these remakes. I am in a minority of people bored out their minds by a shot-for-shot remake of The Lion King. Most people are super excited for that movie specifically BECAUSE it looks exactly like the cartoon. Similarly, this year, we have seen Disney punished for invention (flop Dumbo) and rewarded for fidelity (hit Aladdin). The closer the remake hews to the original cartoon, the better the movie does. I’d like to think that audiences want something new and exciting but frankly, I can’t think that, because there is no evidence to support it. Sequels and remakes are far and away the most successful thing at the box office this decade, and it’s because people have a big appetite for the same exact sh-t. We have two groups—people turned off by something even a little bit different from what they know, and both the second-biggest box office in the world AND an underserved audience in America—and I’m honestly not sure which one will win out.


 


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