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Mulan's New Magic

How Mulan Became an Action Epic

How Mulan Became an Action Epic

(04/03/2020)

Among the recent slate of live-action adaptations of Disney animated classics, MULAN looks to be the fiercest and most intense. Based on the 1998 animated feature, MULAN focuses on a young girl (Liu Yifei) who impersonates a soldier so she can fight a war in her father's place. The rousing and inspirational original film impressed upon young viewers the power of doing the right thing even in the face of overwhelming odds, while introducing themes about masculinity, femininity and their interchangeability.

The live-action version of MULAN, directed by Niki Caro (WHALE RIDER) preserves all those elements while changing up a few things. The story is no longer a musical — instead, it is a grand action epic. Read on to find out how that change took place.

The Original is Already Pretty Epic

Original Mulan Battle

If you haven’t re-watched the original animated classic in a while, it’s easy to forget just what a muscular historical epic it really is, particularly when it comes to the sequence where Mulan and her fellow warriors face off against the invading Shen Yu. As countless members of the Hun army crest a snowy mountain to attack the film's heroic warriors, Mulan uses a cannon to cause an avalanche that, at the very least, temporarily slows down the invading hordes.

Towards the end of the movie, there’s an even more elaborate action set piece set in the Chinese imperial city, which sees Mulan scrambling over rooftops and setting off fireworks. It’s pretty bold stuff, especially when the musical trappings of the movie end about halfway through the movie’s running time. In other words: the table has already been set.

It’s Designed to Be Huge

[Image credit: Walt Disney Studios]


When we were at the D23 Expo last summer, Niki Caro said, before screening two scenes from the movie: "I'm most excited for the audience to see this movie on a truly epic scale." The scale mirrors Mulan’s journey as a character. Caro continued: "What drew me to this project was Mulan herself, her journey from village girl to soldier to warrior to hero."

Back in 2017, Caro described the movie as: "a big, girly martial arts epic." She added: "It will be extremely muscular and thrilling and entertaining and moving." Sean Bailey, President of Motion Picture Production at Walt Disney Studios, talked about MULAN in similar terms around the same time in 2017, saying "MULAN is clearly an empowered-female story but we can also do something new in this reimagining, make it a little more muscular, stronger, with touch of Ridley Scott." In other words: it’s an action epic because everyone, from the outset, decided that it should be. Their spirit carried all the way through the production, with a very different approach being utilized for this live-action adaptation.

Most of the Action Is Real

Mulan: Real Epic Action

"Live-action" adaptations like THE JUNGLE BOOK or LION KING featured primary digital sets and photo-real characters, while last year’s ALADDIN leaned heavily on musical theater-style sets. MULAN, however, has a really-for-real approach to the filmmaking that included location shooting in New Zealand and China.

This might not seem like much of a difference, but actually filming on location, outdoors and with complicated sets, will set it apart visually from the other remakes and make it feel much more grand and imposing. According to one report, the movie’s massive budget largely had to do with sets, which are being designed on ?an unprecedented scale."

Looking at the trailer, you can see how huge the movie is going to be, especially when you consider how many of the cast members, including Donnie Yen and Jason Scott Lee, have a background performing incredible martial arts stunts themselves. Not only will the sets and environments be real, but so will a majority of the stunt work. So, yes, "epic" is the ideal word to describe MULAN.



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All images courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.

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