What to expect from Disney’s live-action 'Mulan': Strong women but no songs or Mushu

Disney's MULAN, Mulan (Yifei Liu), Photo: Film Frame, © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Disney’s next big live action remake is set to be its most spectacular – and most markedly different to its animated feature counterpart – yet.

Yahoo got an early look at Disney’s Mulan, coming to cinemas on 27 March, 2020, and we can reveal that the live-action historical epic will comprise huge, epic battles, intense action choreography, as well as paying close attention to authenticity and realism

Director Niki Caro, who also worked with Disney on the 2015 sports drama McFarland, USA, says that authenticity comes at the cost of some distinct changes from the 1998 animated movie.

That might come to many as a surprise, given that the studio’s 2019 releases The Lion King and Aladdin were almost scene-for-scene remakes. While Mulan will still tell the classic Chinese tale of a woman who dresses as a man in order to fight as a warrior, it’ll also draw closely from the original Chinese legend source material, Caro adds. 

On why the story is more relevant than ever, Caro says, “It's been told and retold countless times since it was first written 1500 years ago, so every time is the right time for a story like Mulan.” 

The UK poster for Disney's Mulan.

The early preview of scenes from the film, screened to Yahoo Movies in London, shows that audiences can expect impressive spectacle on a huge scale, with big battle choreography, scenery and intricate stunts.

Read more: 2020’s most exciting movies

Among that and more, here’s everything to expect from the new movie...

Don’t expect Eddie Murphy’s Mushu to make an appearance  

Mulan and Mushu in Disney's 'Mulan' (1998)

Mulan’s dragon sidekick, voiced by Eddie Murphy in the 1998 animation, may feel like the most memorable part of the Disney movie for many ‘90s kids, but he doesn’t have the same place in this realistic historical epic, says Caro.

“I think we can all appreciate that Mushu is irreplaceable, and that the animated classic stands on its own in that regard. In this movie, there is a spiritual representation of the ancestors, most particularly of Mulan's relationship with her father. But an update of Mushu… no.”

Or your favourite Disney sing-alongs either

Disney's MULAN, Photo: Film Frame, © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“We don't tend to break into song when we go to war,” continues Caro, on the differences between this realistic epic and the animated movie.

“Those songs are brilliant, and if I could’ve squeezed them in there, I would have. But we do honour the music of the animation in a very significant way.”

New details from the ancient Chinese ballad of Mulan will be included

Among those details to be spotted, says Caro, “The ballad talks about her riding her horse alongside two rabbits, and not knowing which rabbit was male and which rabbit was female. And so, we have those rabbits.”

Mulan will be strong physically

Chinese actress Liu Yifei poses on the red carpet during the closing ceremony for the Jackie Chan International Action Film Week in Datong city, north China's Shanxi province, 27 July 2019. (Photo by Zhou jianzhong - Imaginechina/Sipa USA)

Caro says that, in the search for lead actress Liu Yifei, she insisted on finding someone with “real physical prowess”. 

“I didn't want to have a wispy actress; I wanted to find a woman who was actually genuinely strong,” explains the director. The casting for Mulan took a whole year, too, as they looked for someone who was “from China, a fluent English speaker, [a] brilliant actress, and able to pass as a man!”

Mulan will be strong in many other ways, too  

Mulan (1998)

The film will start with Mulan as young girl who possesses a strong ‘chi’: “she is very powerful in the Chinese sense. The Chinese understanding of chi, is of it as your personal power,” explains Caro.

Except, in the world Mulan is born into, this is seen as a negative trait in a young woman, which leads her to disguise herself as a man to become a warrior and embrace her power. “This movie sets us up for the very important idea particularly for women that we are strongest when we are ourselves and that that strength is limitless,” says Caro.

The film is inspired by Lawrence of Arabia

Disney's MULAN, Mulan (Yifei Liu), Photo: Film Frame, © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

As well taking inspiration from the 2013 Chinese thriller, Saving General Yang, the film will look like the 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia in a very specific way, reveals Caro: “Lawrence of Arabia was big inspiration, and the super cool thing about that, if I can get nerdy for a moment, is that we shot on 65mm lenses, which are the same lenses as they used on Lawrence of Arabia.”

The battlefield action is going to be spectacular… and real

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 03: Niki Caro attends the 9th AACTA International Awards at Mondrian Los Angeles on January 03, 2020 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for AACTA)

Expect incredible battle sequences involving horse jumps and backwards riding, slow-mo arrow dodging and tightly choreographed sword fighting – that was all filmed in-camera.

Showing a hugely impressive battle sequence to Yahoo Movies, Caro reveals that the particular large-scale war scene was filmed with a hundred horses and a hundred accomplished trick riders from Kazakhstan and Mongolia: “All of their backwards riding and jumping, that's all real. The biggest thing for me about about remaking an iconic title like Mulan in live-action is the is the fact that it can be real.”

It is going to be authentic

Disney's MULAN, Mulan (Yifei Liu), Photo: Film Frame, © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

With sights set on strong ties to realism and authenticity, it’s both immediately apparent and totally necessary that Chinese producing powerhouse Bill Kong, who produced Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and House of Daggers is the executive producer on Mulan.

“He feels like my fairy godfather in the filmmaking process, because I'm not Chinese but I have made a lot of movies outside of my culture and I have a way of doing it, where I take the responsibility of the cultural authenticity very, very seriously,” explains Caro.

“The first thing I wanted to do when I got this job was to speak to Bill and start those conversations about how I might deliver a film there that everybody loves, but in particular, Chinese, and Asian people too, generally, can feel very proud of.” 

Mulan will be released in cinemas 27 March, 2020. Watch a trailer below.