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Mulan: what we learned from the new Disney trailer

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In 2020, it's time to face one's true reflection as Disney's live-action Mulan remake hits the big screen. Hot on the heels of fellow reboots like Aladdin, Dumbo, Beauty and the Beast and The Jungle Book, Mulan promises to fuse the family-friendly nature of the 1998 animation with the sweeping mythology of the original Chinese legend of Hua Mulan.

Directed by Whale Rider film-maker Niki Caro, the movie stars Liu Yifei as the young Chinese woman who defies her family and societal expectations to become a great warrior. The first trailer for the movie arrived over the weekend, and we've done a deep dive into its secrets...

1. Honouring the original

At first glance, one might assume this to be a trailer for a Far Eastern epic entirely unrelated to any Disney property. It's only upon the reveal of the line "I will bring honour to us all" (followed by the Disney logo), that the connection to the 1998 movie is established. This is swiftly followed by a glimpse at the Matchmaker scene, one of the funniest moments from the original film, but apparently staged with more sobriety and reverence here.

It all carefully lays out the modus operandi of this particular remake: although it is riffing on the original Mulan movie iconography, it appears to be avoiding slavishness, instead establishing its own identity and a flesh and blood mythological sweep akin to something like Braveheart (but, you know, appropriate for all ages). In an era where some Disney remakes are criticised for hewing too closely to the original, this one, excitingly, looks like it's striking out on its own.

And the cast is superb: alongside Liu Yifei, Ip Man martial arts star Donnie Yen is Commander Tung (one assumes he's the substitute for the first movie's love interest/mentor character Li Shang) and Memoirs of a Geisha's Gong Li is villainous witch (and new character) Xian Lang. They join Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story's Jason Scott Lee, portraying rampaging warlord Bori Khan, and Lethal Weapon 4's Jet Li as The Emperor.

Liu Yifei is Mulan in Disney's Mulan remake trailer


2. Where's Mushu?

Social media was ablaze with questions in the wake of the trailer's launch, with many querying the absence of dragon Mushu (voiced by Eddie Murphy in the original). Indeed, it appears he's absent from the film altogether – however, this appears to confirm the notion that this is a relatively more serious-minded take on the Mulan story. There is seemingly little time for comedy sidekicks in this fresh take, and besides, who wants a film that's going to just copy the 1998 movie? 

On that basis – and we hate to say this – it appears there are also no songs from the original either. Once again, this isn't a musical but a stirring live-action adventure filled with eye-grabbing sights. Nostalgists may grumble but given there's plenty of material to plunder from the Hua Mulan mythology (which originally dates from 6th century poem 'The Ballad of Mulan'), we can't complain.


3. Mulan's training

Arguably the most liberating and inspiring moment of the original was where Mulan realised her own heroic potential and adopted her heroic persona in the guise of a man. At the same time, it was undercut with a melancholic edge, playing into gender suppression and stereotypes as she heads out to join her fellow warriors.

We've yet to see how the new movie tackles these issues, which are set to be even more potent nowadays in era where gender fluidity and identity is more of a hot button issue than ever. However, director Caro's 2002 film Whale Rider tackled issues of female liberation in ways that were profound and visually gorgeous, so we have high hopes for this. And on a more flippant note, Liu Yifei looks like a badass.


4. Mulan in battle

So, we'll be missing the likes of 'Reflection' and 'I'll Make a Man Out of You', but there are still some exciting references to the first Disney movie in there. We get glimpses of the avalanche scene and Mulan running off the roof (which may be a re-staging of her climactic battle with Shan-Yu), plus plenty of visually striking, geometric shots of the warriors preparing for battle.

At the same time, this one goes heavier on the close-up shots of Mulan in the midst of battle, emphasising her fearsome training and abilities. It appears to be taking more of a leaf from the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon school of film-making, and we're more than happy with that.

Mulan is released on 27th March 2020, so tweet us @Cineworld with your favourite moments from the trailer.