With the one, two punch of Marvel and Star Wars, Disney has two of the biggest franchises in the history of the world, but while we know that we're going to continue to see movies from both series for the foreseeable future, there's another element of Disney's recent box office success that has been just as important, the live action remake. 2019 saw a lot of success with several of these films, and 2020 will continue this trend with fan favorite Mulan.
Several of the classic Disney animated films that we all grew up with have found new life by being transformed into live action stories, and many more are to come. Some of them, like Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King, have remained incredibly faithful to the original material, others, like Maleficent or Dumbo, have taken things in new directions. Whatever the choice, these films are almost always box office successes.
However, while some audiences are clearly on board for the reinventions, it seems others might be getting exhausted. 2019 saw five such remakes (if we include sequels and Disney+ original films) and by any measure, that's a lot. Even Marvel has never done more than three films in a year. The next movie in this ongoing series is Mulan, and while we've only seen early trailers, the new film holds a lot of promise. Whether you're excited for the upcoming film, or afraid the whole concept may be running out of steam, there's reason to believe Mulan could end up the best live-action remake so far.
The New Mulan Is Not A Shot For Shot Remake
While the Disney remakes that have been the most successful at the box office have been the ones that stayed closest to the original animated version, this has also been one of the major criticisms. What's the value of remaking the movie if we're just going to get exactly the same movie over again? One thing that's quite clear from the live action Mulan, is that the new movie is not going to give us exactly the same story over again.
It's been revealed that this version of Mulan is going to have a pair of villains, including a female "witch" character that never appeared in the animated Mulan. We also know that Mushu the dragon, while a popular side kick for some, won't be appearing in the remake, at least not in any way we know him. These changes are clearly sending Mulan the live-action movie in a unique direction, which means we won't know what sort of movie we're getting from the moment we sit down to watch it.
Mulan Looks Like A Real Action Movie
The one thing that is truly clear when looking at the new Mulan is that Disney wants it to be a serious, dramatic, action movie. While I'm sure the film will have lighter elements and more than a few jokes, that's not the overarching tone of the live action Mulan, it's a lot of sword fighting and martial arts, and that's incredibly exciting.
It's exciting simply because it's not something that we see from Disney, and especially not from the live-action remakes. Of course, turning any of the previous remakes into action movies would have been an odd fit, but it fits so perfectly with Mulan that it would be an absolute shame not to take full advantage. With the action movie focus comes the loss of the musical elements, and the comedic sidekicks, which people will miss, but by not keeping the songs, it frees the film to dedicate itself to its tonal and genre shift.
Mulan Has An Amazing Cast
One area where the Disney remakes have never suffered is in casting. It seems they are always able to find the best people. One of the biggest opportunities that the live action Mulan has is its ability to showcase an entirely Asian cast in a massive, big budget Disney movie, and the film hasn't let that opportunity pass by. The new Mulan includes many names that movie fans will recognize, like Jason Scott Lee, Jet Li, and Donnie Yen, as well as other actors whose names might not be recognized, but whose skill and faces certainly will be, like Tzi Ma and Rosalind Chao, who play Mulan's parents.
The new Mulan will also introduce the west to great actors we don't know as well at home, like Liu Yifei in the title role, and Gong Li as the shapeshifting witch Xian Lang.
The New Mulan Can Fix Problems With The Original
If you're going to remake a movie, it only makes sense to take the opportunity to not only try new things, but also make substantive changes to what came before. Most Disney live-action remakes have only paid lip service to this idea, fixing perceived "plot holes" that were never really issues to begin with. However, with Mulan, the remake can make real changes to the story to make it better than it was before.
It's little secret that the animated Mulan, while being a Chinese story, went through a lot of changes so that it would appeal to western audiences. While doing that made some sense at the time, the theatrical audience is now truly global, and there's no need to do that. Disney can now tell a Mulan story that is more akin to the original Chinese version, which can be used to educate the rest of the world about this classic tale.
It's Still Mulan
Yes, there's a lot that looks very different from the Mulan that we know in the Mulan that we're getting, but amidst all the changes, the additions and the subtractions, it's clear that the movie we're getting is still the story of Mulan, and what's more, it's still the Disney version of that story.
It's still the story of a woman who must go against her culture so that she might bring honor to her family, as her culture requires. It's still a story of heroism and duty. It's still the most kick-ass Disney Princess we've ever known. It seems unlikely anybody is going to walk out of the new film feeling that they say an entirely different movie, simply a fresh and modern take on the material.
Remaking anything is hard. You'll have fans who love the original so much that the idea of touching anything is sacrilege, but you also have an audience that wants to see something new. The live action Mulan has the potential, possibly better than any of the Disney remakes that came before, to balance these two things perfectly. We'll find out if it all worked out when Mulan hits theaters on March 27.
CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.
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