The first trailer for the live-action reboot of Mulan is here and it promises more authenticity than we’ve typically seen from the Disney remake craze.
At first glance, the trailer bears a closer resemblance to a period drama than it does the lighthearted Disney original. Notably missing, for example, is the talking dragon Mushu and the litany of ghostly ancestors keeping watch over Mulan. But it’s for a good reason – Disney is rumored to be aligning this remake more closely with the original folklore of Hua Mulan, a warrior of ancient Chinese legend, who the animated film was based. As a result, the movie trailer teases a greater focus on the original tale and the rich tapestry of Chinese heritage behind it.
In the trailer, China’s Han dynasty comes to life in a way that both mirrors and expands upon the original. Our titular character, played by Chinese-American actress Liu Yifei, is seen burdened by her duty to her family, but also gets to show off prolific sword fighting skills as she realizes that it’s also her duty to fight. It seems the film will show less musical numbers and more battle scenes and Mulan’s character development may just be stronger for it.
For their part, fans have had mixed reactions to the teaser. Many Twitter users are upset by the absence of their favorite characters and fear that the film will be too serious without the levity they added to the cartoon original. After all, along with the ousting of Mushu, Li Shang is also reportedly absent from the movie, replaced instead by a new love interest, Chen Honghui. Cri-Kee is, too, nowhere to be found.
Other users argue that the simplified cast will give us a chance to place the central focus on Mulan – her bravery, her tenacity, and the story that makes her so remarkable. Personally, I’m inclined to agree with the latter.
After all, the cartoon Mulan that we all fell in love with as kids was not without its problems. Mulan’s Chinese culture is clearly a Westernized perception of Chinese culture, so much so that when the movie was released in China, it bombed. Japanese motifs were rife throughout the film despite its setting in China and characters like Chi Fu and the emperor strayed into Asian stereotype territory more often than not.
Cultural nuance was clearly not a priority of the 1998 film, leaving many Chinese folks who were starving for representation disappointed and offended. What better reason for a remake than to use it as a chance to give one of the most empowering Disney princesses the culturally conscious do-over she deserves?
Look, of course we all loved Mushu and Li Shang and the top-notch sing-alongs in the killer soundtrack. But even putting cultural insensitivities aside, do we really need another live-action film that is simply a frame-by-frame ripoff of its cartoon original (looking at you, Beauty and the Beast)? The recent onslaught of Disney live-action reboots has been such a blatant cash grab so intent on remaking my childhood memories that I’ve found myself left with little desire to watch any of these films – even if one is voiced by Beyonce.
This new version of Mulan has chosen to serve up millennial nostalgia in smaller doses and I’m perfectly okay with that. Instead of merely watching copycat cinema, we’ll get to explore a new angle to the classic tale, one that focuses more on Mulan and her heritage and less on a cast of eccentric characters.
We’ll get to see a Chinese-American female lead — still such a rarity — become a role model to underserved little girls everywhere. And the trailer is still packed with some of the original film’s iconic moments, like Mulan’s meeting with the matchmaker and the battle that takes place with the backdrop of an avalanche, all set to an instrumental version of “Reflection” playing in the background.
As we watch Mulan weld swords in the trailer and become the soldier she was meant to be, we hear an unknown woman speaking in a voiceover. “Quiet, composed, graceful, disciplined. These are the qualities we see in a good wife,” she says.
But they are also the qualities that make up a great warrior. And by possessing those qualities, Mulan just might bring honor to us all.
Mulan opens in theaters March 2020.