The latest Disney live-action remake, Mulan is set to grace UAE cinemas on 4 September. The movie is sure to impress UAE audiences with a star-studded cast including Liu Yifei as Mulan, who trained at the prestigious Performance Institute of Beijing Film Academy, and Donnie Yen as Commander Tung, who, we were excited to discover, trained in Japanese karate, Korean taekwondo and western boxing as well as hip-hop and break-dancing.
Back in 1998, when Mulan was released for the first time, it’s safe to say it was received pretty well worldwide, grossing over USD304 million, and winning a Golden Globe and Academy Award nomination.
Now, over two decades on, though, and we can expect to see some changes to the animated original. Two prominent characters will be absent from the new movie, starting with Mushu, the sidekick dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy.
Producer Jason Reed explained the reasoning: “It turns out that the traditional Chinese audience did not particularly think that was the best interpretation of the dragon in their culture.“ He adds, “That the dragon is a sign of respect and of strength and power and sort of using it as a silly sidekick did not play well with a traditional Chinese audience.”
As conversations around cultural appropriation have inserted themselves into the mainstream (and rightfully so) the live-action remake has decided to update their characterisation to lean on the side of respect rather than stereotyping.
In the wake of the #metoo movement, too, given the male-dominated tiering of Hollywood’s culture, having a character act as both Mulan’s commanding officer and her love interest has been deemed inappropriate. So, Li Shang, the Captain of the Imperial army and Mulan’s mentor, has also been removed from the character list.
Missing from the movie too, is the spontaneous (and often simultaneous) bursting into song that we're used to from cult Disney classics. In order to emphasize the gravity and seriousness of the movie, the characters will not be singing, although the audience can expect to hear the familiar theme of "reflection" lilting through the film in a significant way.
Whether these seem like timely upgrades or troubling cinema sins to you, it is clear the live-action transformation will bring the tale into a new age.
Vox cinema-goers sit patiently to wait and see whether Mulan, and Disney, really will bring honour to us all.