Photo credit: Disney
The path to the live-action Mulan film has been long and arduous.
We first found out Disney’s plans for re-adapting the legend in 2015, towards the beginning of Disney’s focus on revamping their animated films into live-action projects. For me, Disney’s live-action films have been hit-or-miss, with Cinderella being outlandishly weird, despite the amazing job Cate Blanchett did in the film as the evil stepmother, and Beauty and the Beast being so bad it’s good. That track record, coupled with the lackluster critical reception of live-action Aladdin and The Lion King (indeed, the films are just okay), folks have been right to be a little worried about what we can expect from Mulan.
News that Li Shang, the character who is probably the most unique man in the Disney Prince pantheon, was being omitted from the film didn’t help matters. Since the original animated film’s release, Shang has become a symbol of bisexual-coded representation for Disney fans, and people were adamant that he be in the live-action film to keep the representation going, as well as to keep the film true to its nostalgic animated roots. But the news of Shang’s omission created a firestorm with Disney fans.
Plenty of theories were released about why Shang was being erased, including China’s censorship laws, Disney’s own hesitance surrounding LGBTQ characters, and this theory that perhaps Disney doesn’t even have the rights to the songs and characters in Mulan via a lawsuit between Disney and Jeffrey Katzenberg. The reason being touted now by the film’s producer, Jason Reed, is that sensitivity surrounding #MeToo and Shang’s position as both a love interest and Mulan’s superior compelled the team to cut Shang from the film. Does it make sense? We’ll get into more of that when I write about the set visits in one of my articles coming up. But suffice it to say, no reason, especially the latest official version, has appeased Shang’s diehard fans who want to see him in the film.
Shang’s omission isn’t the only controversy Mulan has undergone. The lead actress, Liu Yifei, has come under fire for speaking against protests in Hong Kong. The film has also been used as a wedge between Hong Kong protesters and the Chinese government. Liu’s opinions might not really make much of a difference to a non-Chinese or non-Hong Kong American audience, but her opinions have stuck in the minds of some who are second-guessing supporting the film. But from what I’ve seen on the internet, the amount of opposition against Liu has been eclipsed by general excitement about the film, despite the pernicious issue regarding Shang.
The trailers for the film, for instance, shut down a lot of naysayers who felt like the live-action film couldn’t capture the magic of the original. Overall, the trailers show a mysterious, energetic, action-packed film that looks like it’ll entertain the masses. Indeed, what we’ve seen from the trailers show a film that is leaps and bounds above Disney’s other live-action film offerings. In fact, the film’s lack of slavishness to the original might help it attract new fans in the long run and provide a new path for Disney to take when revamping their animated films.
We are only a few weeks away from the film coming to theaters, so we’ll see just how magical it’ll be. But looking back at the journey fans have been taken on to get to this point, it’s clear expectations are high—not just to entertain, but to win audiences over.