After live-action remakes of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and next week The Lion King, it will be Mulan’s turn next year. On Monday, Disney released the first trailer, without songs and with more China. That causes the necessary commotion.
In contrast to the original animated film from 1998, the version 2.0 seems to do without songs, without love interest and without sidekick. One predicts a feminist action film, the other a patriotic pamphlet for China.
Mulan was the first Asian Disney princess, in a story loosely based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan. The heroic woman entered the army to protect the country from the Xiong Nu and therefore posed as a man.
In the cartoon she received the help of the dull dragon Mushu (with the voice of Eddie Murphy) and army captain Li Shang. The two are no longer in the new film.
Mushu must probably give way because the Chinese see a gross stereotyping in it and Disney used all recent remakes take out anything edgy. The fact that the love interest must also give way fits in with the contemporary strategy of the studio. With stories about strong girls who stand their ground. No man.
The first trailer already suggests that the new Mulan will focus primarily on the young woman who enters the army and thus rejects traditional expectations about marriage and family. Actuator Liu Yifei, who is popular in China, was recruited for the title role. The other truth of this remake probably also lies therein.
Disney has been trying to gain a foothold in that lucrative market. For example, in 2016 it opened a Disneyland in Shanghai, adapted to the cultural wishes of the regime. Knowing that the Chinese cinema market continues to grow in contrast to that in the West, and that the local authorities only allow 34 Western films a year, this Mulan seems to be a strategic move to secure a place on that list.
Mulan flopped at the Chinese box office in 1988. In the same period, the American studio got into serious controversy because it had co-financed the Martin Scorsese’s Dalai Lama film Kundun.
That even led to a total boycott of Disney by the Chinese government. In the meantime, these folds have been ironed out, but the company would rather avoid such a repeat flop.
To turn Mulan into an action film also fits in with the Chinese tradition. The legend has often been successfully filmed in their own country, but with the focus on the struggle and the tragic side of the story.
That probably explains why the catchy songs are now shelved. Anything to keep the Chinese friends.
Although some find these concessions to be particularly hypocritical. “It feels like Disney is waving a big red flag in their desperate attempt at success,” writes Jingan Young in The Guardian. “For those who believe in democracy and freedom, this leaves a somewhat sour taste.”
Coming from a mostly leftwing newspaper, that’s a serious burn.