The first teaser for the new Mulan is already the best live action Disney remake of the year, even though we won’t see the full movie until 2020.
Rather than taking the safe risk-averse route of a shot-for-shot CGI rehash, director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) looks like she’ll be telling and crafting the story her way. It stars Chinese actress and American newcomer Yifei Liu in the title role. Sure, it’s the story we recognize from Disney’s 1998 hit (with one of that era’s more beautiful visual palettes), but this is clearly a fresh take on how to tell that story.
Unlike other live action remakes from the 90s era (Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and seemingly the upcoming The Lion King), Caro’s Mulan doesn’t appear beholden to treating the animated original as if that were some kind of canonized storyboard. Emphasizing that point: any form of the mini-dragon sidekick Mushu (voiced by Eddie Murphy in a much better version of Shrek‘s Donkey before the Shrek franchise was ever a thing) is absent, which would seem to be the right call despite how much I enjoyed that character. Also, the film’s villain has been changed from the Hun invader Shan Yu to a powerful witch played by Gong Li (Memoirs of a Geisha).
Unfortunately, however, this won’t be a musical, although reportedly the melodies of many of the songs will serve as cues within this new film’s score. Nixing the songs is a disappointment, to be sure, but I’ll grant Caro and company the grace to do what they feel is necessary to make this fresh while still honoring the original’s core.
All that said, I love the structural contrast of this first teaser: hearing Mulan’s mother describe her daughter as having all the traits of a traditional wife while seeing Mulan being a warrior in slo-mo clips of battle. The whole thing gave me chills, and now I officially have high hopes.
Look, I get why Disney hasn’t allowed the same sort of artistic freedom in its previous remakes of higher profile 90s remakes, but still, having a fresh version rather than a carbon copy feels so much more exciting.
Co-starring Chinese action icon Jet Li as The Emperor, Donnie Yen (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story); Jason Scott Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny), Tzi Ma (Arrival, Rush Hour), Rosalind Chao (The Joy Luck Club), and an all-Asian cast, Mulan fights its way into theaters on March 27, 2020.
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