Was Disney's 'Mulan' Remake Doomed From the Start?
Unless you're the Vice President of the United States, you probably don't have a laughably irrational hatred for Mulan. Some even consider it one of the best Disney movies of the '90s (the worst being a staggeringly racist Tim Allen comedy). So understandably, a lot of people are super-hyped for the live-action remake which comes out in just two weeks. Unfortunately for Disney, it comes out in just two weeks.
When the original Mulan hit theatres in 1998, America was only dealing with an outbreak of JNCO jeans and chain wallets. The remake, on the other hand, has to contend with goddamn COVID-19, AKA coronavirus, AKA leave-Tom-Hanks-the-fuck-alone-itis. The new Mulan cost $200 million dollars, making it Disney's most expensive live-action remake yet. Less than ideally, it's coming out during a pandemic that's shutting down movie theaters across the world. Looking back at its troubled production history, we can't help but wonder if the new Mulan was doomed from the start?
A new live-action take on Mulan has been in the works for a whole decade, albeit without Disney's involvement at first. In 2010 Zhang Ziyi was set to star in an "independent film" version of Mulan helmed by Speed 2: Cruise Control director Jan de Bont. While that fell through, in 2015 Disney bought a spec script based on the Mulan legend written by Elizabeth Martin and Lauren Hynek. Soon rumors surfaced that the story featured a new "white love interest" for Mulan described as a "30-something European trader" who became the "ultimate hero of the script". Not surprisingly, a lot of fans weren't happy about the new Mulan focusing on Mulan's caucasian friend, leading to a source from the film clarifying that the original script was merely "a jumping-off point for a new take on the story" and that "all primary roles, including the love interest, are Chinese." (They apparently jumped that point right off onto Aladdin instead.)
We haven't even gotten to the biggest controversy yet. No, we're not talking about the erasure of Mushu the talking dragon. In 2019, Mulan's lead actress Liu Yifei made a statement on social media defending the Hong Kong police and their brutal treatment of protestors. This prompted calls to boycott the film, followed by a pro-Mulan campaign waged by internet bots and Chinese state media. One Chinese newspaper even suggested that "accounts tweeting in favor of the boycott should be suspended." Which is a pretty intense development for what began as a simple remake of a cartoon that had special McNugget dipping sauce and Happy Meal toys.
Mulan created so many backlashes and backlashes to said backlashes that hardly anyone noticed that the film's costume designer is decidedly not Chinese, and bragged about researching the project by looking at the "Chinese department" of various European museums-- meaning that the look of Mulan was informed thanks to colonial thievery. She also mentions that the costumes were fashioned after clothing from the Tang dynasty, even though the movie takes place during the period of Northern and Southern dynasties; a fact also ignored by the wildly inaccurate set design.
Despite the fact that Disney was hoping to combat piracy by releasing Mulan in China on the "same day as the rest of the world" that's obviously not going to happen. And despite the fact that it premiered in the U.S. to positive reviews, Disney has canceled its European premiere. Meaning that Mulan almost certainly won't get that sweet Lion King money currently supporting whatever freaky vices Jon Favreau indulges in.
You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter!