Walt Disney Pictures has thus far largely enjoyed great critical and commercial success alike with the live-action re-imaginings of its animated classics – so it should come as no surprise that the Mouse House isn’t going to let up on the practice anytime soon. Disney is reported to have several such remakes/re-imaginings in the works right now, but there are two in particular with firm theatrical release dates: Beauty and the Beast from director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls), arriving in March of 2017, and Mulan: a film that has landed a Fall 2018 release date.
Mulan recently found itself in hot water when details leaked about the spect script for the film (written by lesser-knowns Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin): a screenplay that reportedly changes the famous legend of Mulan by making its namesake the romantic interest in her own story, with a white merchant serving as the protagonist. Thankfully, it has since been reported that the current script draft for the film – from Rise/Dawn of the Planet of the Apes screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver – is a faithful rendering of the story, featuring all-Chinese primary characters.
THR is reporting that the Jaffa and Silver-penned Mulan script draft was also good enough to convince Disney executives to fast-track the project and give it an official release date too. In addition to Disney having announced that it is conducting a global search for a Chinese actress to play Mulan, THR reports that the studio would “ideally” want an Asian director to call the shots behinds the scenes. Oscar-winning Life of Pi and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon director Ang Lee has reportedly already passed on an offer to direct the film, but it sound like Disney is looking at other Asian filmmakers as potential helmers too.
Elsewhere, Sony is moving ahead on its own live-action Mulan film – and THR reports that studio is also seeking an Asian filmmaker to oversee the project. The Sony version of Mulan has a script that was written by Jason Keller: the screenwriter who co-wrote Mirror Mirror, which readers may recall was one of the two Snow White re-tellings released back in 2012.
So far though, studios that compete directly with Disney’s live-action fairy tale re-tellings haven’t had much luck. The runaway success of Disney and director Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book this year, coupled with the announcement that a sequel is being developed, has raised fair questions about the commercial prospects of Warner Bros. Pictures’ own Jungle Book adaptation, scheduled for 2018. With Disney prioritizing Mulan for a theatrical release in about two years, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if Sony were to eventually allow its own Mulan project to fall by the wayside, rather than attempt and take on the Mouse House’s film head-on.
As for Disney’s approach to re-imagining Mulan: it’s starting to sound better and reflective of the growing recognition across the film industry of the importance of inclusivity on both sides of the camera; not only onscreen. It’s generally agreed that the Marvel/Netflix series Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are all the more authentic in their representations of female and black characters/culture, respectively, as a result of having such people as Melissa Rosenberg and Cheo Hodari Coker serve as their showrunners. Upcoming superhero movies Wonder Woman and Black Panther have been applauded for bringing on Patty Jenkins and Ryan Coogler to direct, for related reasons.
On the other hand, concerns have already been raised about upcoming Marvel projects Doctor Strange and Iron Fist and their takes on Asian characters/culture, given the absence of Asian and/or Asian-American storytellers involved behind the camera. Similarly, director Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall has come under fire for relying on what seems to be a variation of the “white savior” trope, by casting Matt Damon as its protagonist. Fortunately, Disney as a company has become more forward-thinking with how it tells stories about different cultures (this fall’s Moana was co-developed by South Pacific islander storytellers, as one example) – and if these latest signs are to be believed, the Mouse House will continue that trend and learn from others’ mistakes, with its live-action take on Mulan.
Mulan opens in U.S. theaters on November 2nd, 2018.