MULAN

THE DISNEY CLASSIC IN 2020 - WILL IT FINALLY BRING HONOUR TO US ALL?

ONLINE ENTERTAINMENT
By Chris dos Santos
5th September 2020

China's stance on international films is an ongoing battle, and it wasn't until recently that things have started to loosen up. Back in 1998 as few as five U.S. titles would be allowed in, and Disney was determined to have 'Mulan' be one of them, especially after the low box office of their last two features; a release in China wasn't a dream, it was necessary. This didn't go to plan, as the Chinese government delayed the film for over a year and then it only received a limited run after Chinese New Year. It's important to note that Disney produced a film called 'Kundun' about the Dalai Lama, which did not sit well with the Chinese government at all, and while Disney wanted 'Mulan' to create some kind of peace with them, the film ultimately underperformed. 'Mulan' struck a cord with American-Asian audiences, but in China the film isn't looked upon too fondly. With the live-action remake, Disney wasn't letting Coronavirus stop them from bring it in Chinese screens; Disney wants peace.

Thoughts on the Animated Film
'Mulan' is of my favourite animated films; it contains some of my favourite songs in musical history. 'I'll Make a Man Out of You' is simply one of the best songs ever written. I love Mushu and would often quote him as a child, and my plush soft toy of Cri-Kee would accompany us on family trips. I love the message, and it taught me a lot of lessons about being 'Ture to Your Heart'.

Thoughts on the Live-Action Film
We will get into more detail about the changes and how I feel about them below but as a film, it really works. The action scenes are jaw-dropping, the fight chorography is simply beautiful, as is the design for the film - the costumes are gorgeous, and so are the sets. It does lack a bit of character across the board, but the unlike other remakes it gets the most important thing right - the theme of 'Mulan' being true and having honour, being updated with the mantra "loyal, brave and true". If we don't include 'Pete's Dragon', this is the best Disney remake hands down. It's not afraid to be different, and uses that in its favour. I want to re-watch it, even though personally I enjoy the animated film more. The film did get me emotional, especially in a beautiful bit of fan service that really hit the heartstrings.

1998 vs 2020
More than any other Disney remake, there are two things to consider with 'Mulan'. Firstly, this film is not made for a western audience, it's made for a Chinese one and secondly, this is not a nostalgic cash grab, this is an earnest remake - which is why it hurts to say this: removing the music and Mushu is a good thing. As those are the two elements that most of us associate with 'Mulan', removing them instantly creates major changes. In 'Aladdin', even if people don't like it, you can bank on them playing 'A Whole New World' to provoke some kind of nostalgic reaction. In 'Mulan', that nostalgic backing is removed, meaning they have to come up with new things to fill in the time, and these have to be exciting to engage the audience.

'Mulan' has a budget of US$200 million, more than 'The Lion King', the most of any Disney remake, and the most for a film with a female director. Disney was determined for this to be a huge hit in China, and with that comes a high price tag as to pull off this tale authentically means big set pieces. This is a historic war epic, and making that look real isn't easy. It's evident in everything down to the marketing they want to be as respectful as possible, with everything trying to be culturally respectful; there is no room for error.

SWITCH: 'MULAN' FINAL TRAILER

The biggest change for me is the music. Musicals don't really sell in China, so it makes sense why this was one of the first things to go. While it would have been awesome to see 'I'll Make a Man Out of You', let's be real - in all of the Disney remakes, the music is always done poorly and would have just been disappointing. Also, none of the Disney remakes have made any real waves sales-wise, even the pop tie-in songs like Ariana Grande and John Legend's 'Beauty and the Beast' or Zayn Malik and Zhavia Ward's 'A Whole New World'. Both didn't chart highly, so removing the music makes sense here as it was never going to be successful anyway. Because of the backlash from fans, Christina Aguilera re-recorded 'Reflection' for the film's credits, now with more high notes, as well as new song 'Loyal, Brave and True', which is a nice song to tie to this film but no standout. The score of the film is beautiful, and they use the instrumental versions of 'Honor to Us All' and 'Reflection' but are never overused. 'Reflection' is used perfectly as a theme for whenever Mulan realises her true self. I was very happy with the way they use these updated songs in the film, and it was truly moving at times.

With Mushu goes all of the comedy, which is a good thing. With the tone of film, this would have been so out of place - and we know they would have gotten Kevin Hart and it wouldn't have been a good time. Along with Mushu, the role of the ancestors has changed as well. Mulan's family has the phoenix as a sort of mascot, and when she leaves for war her father prays to their ancestors' graves to protect her on her journey. They send out a phoenix who guides her whenever she is stuck as a way of guiding her towards certain things when needed. Again, I liked this addition; the Phoenix was quite beautiful and made sense for this version of the story.

The next change is the villain. This time, we have two - and neither are Shan Yu. The first is basically Shan Yu light, now named Bori Khan, who leads an army that wants to dethrone the Emperor and take over China. He is more of the face of evil, the head of the opposing side, but the main villain is the new witch character, Xian Lang. She is Bori Khan's assistant, grabbing information for him in her hawk form, but serves as juxtaposition to Mulan. I understand why they went with two villains, but Xian Lang is the more interesting one and has more interactions with Mulan. Having new villains creates some uncertainty and a reason to be invested in this new version. With Scar or Gaston, we already knew their moves, while here we don't, and it adds something exciting to a familiar story.

The most unnecessary change is the omission of Shang. The reason he isn't here is that China had a problem with Mulan having a love interest, and to remove any concerns about questionable sexuality. Since Shang begins to fall in love when Mulan is Ping and many have cited him as bisexual icon, Disney didn't want that so they just removed him and turned his character into two roles: Commander Tung, who is the teacher part of his character, and Chen Honghui, who serves as a friend to Mulan during training. However, even though they didn't want a love interest, he does still become something of a flame - even if it's much more toned down.

Versions of Yao, Ling and Chien-Po still exist here, but they aren't comedic and aren't equal counterparts, more echoes of the former characters. They remove Mulan's grandmother, instead she has a sister. Neither really have any huge impact, nor are they bad changes.

While 'Mulan' changes a lot from its animated counterpart, all are logical. This is a different film, and none of the changes are offensive. There is no dumb time-travelling book or literally any of the changes they made to 'Aladdin' and 'The Lion King' - these all work in the movie's favour. This movie is rated PG-13 in the United States, the highest classification of any Disney remake (here in Australia it's PG, with 'Maleficent' still being the highest classification for us with an M rating), and it's with good reason. The animated film has a high death toll and in the new version it's even higher. We see bows go into people and a lot of violent fight scenes. This is a remake for a much older audience, and you can see that in every frame.

We can't let 'Mulan' fail, being the only one that really takes risks as a remake and pulls them off ('Maleficent' didn't pull anything off) is something to celebrate. If this movie fails, we will just go back to the same old recycled painful films we have been getting for years.

Premier Access? What is it? What will it change?
From now until the 2nd of November 2020, you can get early access for AU$34.95 (or US$29.99) to 'Mulan' on Disney+ (it's set to be made free from December 4th). If you are in a country that doesn't have Disney+, the film will be released in cinemas over the next month, starting with that all-important Chinese released on the 11th of September. This has caused a lot of debate since it was announced: who decides what is free on streaming services and what is "Premier Access", why can I watch 'The Mandalorian' for AU$6.99 but have to pay extra for 'Mulan'? There are, of course, a few obvious reasons - the biggest being 'Mulan' was originally a theatrical venture, so not only were production costs huge but also the marketing costs. Every time it was delayed, Disney reportedly lost anywhere from $400,000 to $600,000, and it was pushed back three times so those fees where stacking up. Also, when we look at iTunes and Google Play's costs, the average new release to purchase is around AU$19.99 in HD ('Mulan' comes with 4K streaming capabilities) or your average new release Blu-Ray being anywhere from AU$30 to $40. We have already seen in the U.S. this year films like 'Trolls World Tour' and 'The King of Staten Island' being made available to rent for US$19.99, and 'Mulan' you get to own, hence the slightly higher cost. What confuses a lot of people is that isn't on a VOD platform it's on a streaming service - something you already have to pay for to use, making it much more frustrating for customers.

The other fear with this release is that, if this works, we could see major changes in the way films are released. Netflix is always in debt with their latest figure being $12 billion, so if this is successful, they could get ideas to charge more for those popular titles people want to see. 'Stranger Things' Season 4? That will be $10 an episode. This is something that could be very possible.

2020 has been a very uncertain time, and while we'll never know how much money 'Mulan' could have made if it was to be a theatrical blockbuster, Disney doesn't want a headline like "Audience contracts COVID-19 after Mulan screening". With many cinemas still closed around the globe, who knows when it will be safe for everyone to be in one again, and with restrictions in place there is no way studios can make any kind of big return on films. Yes, I would have loved to experience 'Mulan' in a cinema, but I'm happy to get to experience it at all this year, and yes, the price point might be a bit high for you and I, but for families it's great. They could have made it $34.99 if you weren't a subscriber, but if you were subscribed you got some kind of discount just to make it more enticing to existing customers.

Personally, I was always going to pay whatever they charged for it. I like supporting films when I can, and I'm happy this is an international roll-out, as Australia often misses out, hence why we have a high piracy rate. Using the branding "Premier Access" is confusing, as it implies you get more than the film, and I think that's what they should have done. Because we know the film will be free in a couple of months, they should have added things like a download of the soundtrack, maybe coupons for discounted merch, special features or even just some printable activities for kids, just adding a few things to make you feel like you're getting more. The wording they have used also makes you feel like you're part of some kind of exclusive club that gets you access to more titles, but I'm sure if they do this for other films, it will be another $34.99.

I'm surprised 'Mulan' is the film they released like this and not a 'Soul' or 'Jungle Cruise'. While they are smaller titles, I really thought Disney was holding out for that cinema experience with 'Mulan'.

Disney Remakes: what will 'Mulan' change?
We can't let 'Mulan' fail, because it's the only of Disney's remakes that really takes risks and pulls them off ('Maleficent' didn't pull anything off), and that's something to celebrate. If this movie fails, we will just go back to the same old painfully recycled films we've been getting for years. Yes, Disney loves money, but they took a big risk with 'Mulan' - an even bigger one with how it's been released - and we as audiences need to show them this is what we want from their remakes. Right now, there are eleven planned remakes plus four more for Disney+, so this trend isn't going away any time soon. If you have complained about any of these remakes, please support 'Mulan', as it's the only one that justifies existing - and on top of that, it's a really enjoyable movie that actually warrants its existence.
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