First thing’s first: I did not like The Lion King remake, released last year. I didn’t see it in theaters, and I am happy for that, because being able to watch it at home for the first time and rant about it was a much more enjoyable experience for everyone involved, I’m sure. So when it was announced today that a sequel to the photorealistic CGI remake has been greenlit by Disney and will soon go into production, one would think that my response would be one of disinterest or active distaste for the whole idea. But that is not the case, because when you attach a director like Barry Jenkins to your project, no matter how outlandish or seemingly unnecessary, you have instantaneously captured my attention and ensured that, despite all my reservations, I will be watching this sequel.
An unsavory subsection of Film Twitter has already exploded with rage over the news, with many writing long, strongly-worded condemnations of Jenkins, the indie director behind hits like Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk, warning him that he’s making a mistake getting involved in Disney’s corporate process, that he “could do better”, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah. I’m not going to get into it too much, because I simply don’t have time for snobbish “intellectuals” who regard themselves as film connoisseurs because they wouldn’t touch a Disney film with a ten-foot pole, but I will make my opinion on the subject clear: Barry Jenkins has the right to make whatever he wants, and he doesn’t need to take career advice from anybody on Twitter. If he wants to make a movie about CGI lions, I am not going to stand in his way because – shockingly – it’s very possible he could actually do wonders with this franchise.
As I said, I was not too fond of The Lion King remake. It was virtually a shot-for-shot remake of the original animated film, but lacking the charm and pizzazz of the Disney Renaissance classic. The characters seemed boring and expressionless, thanks to the “improved” CGI animation, which stripped away any chance of liveliness or color. The story was basically unchanged, save for minor changes that had no impact on anything whatsoever. Worst of all, the iconic musical numbers were completely butchered. I never anticipated a sequel, though due to the remake accumulating over a billion dollars at the global box office, perhaps I should have guessed one was coming. But the sequel we’re getting isn’t going to be a straight-up adaptation of any of The Lion King‘s animated direct-to-video sequels. This is going to be something entirely new: a film that explores the “mythology” of the franchise’s characters, and intertwines past and present.
The mention of the word “mythology” is what has me the most intrigued, because, while it could mean anything, it immediately conjures up images in my mind of Beyoncé’s Black Is King, released last month to critical acclaim and intense social media fanfare. Black Is King, a strikingly beautiful visual album directed by the popstar herself, adapts the story of The Lion King with a bold, Afro-Futuristic twist, leading the viewer on a spiritual journey into the world of African mythology, folklore and tradition, all while celebrating Black beauty and culture in all its forms. While there’s no word yet on whether Beyoncé will return to voice the lioness Nala once again for The Lion King‘s sequel, I hope and pray she will be involved in the production design for the film. Not only because the sequel could use her distinctive stylistic bravery, but because the messages she included in Black Is King are messages that can – and should – be woven into The Lion King franchise itself. It’s well-known that The Lion King was based off on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but the sequel has the opportunity to draw new inspiration from far more ancient and arguably far more impactful African legends that are rooted deep in Black culture across the world. HBO’s Lovecraft Country is currently doing something very similar, taking the stories of racist author H.P. Lovecraft (and just the traditionally exclusionary sci-fi/fantasy genre in general) and re-examining them from a unique, Black perspective). And if anyone is the perfect choice to do that for Disney, it’s someone like Barry Jenkins, whose films have explored various facets of underrepresented Black culture.
As of right now, there’s no word on when the film will start production, but the script is apparently completed and Jenkins has already officially signed on. And so we find ourselves in this bizarre situation, where a film that I hated with a passion is now getting a sequel I would have thought completely unneeded – until now. With Barry Jenkins and (hopefully) Beyoncé at the helm, this film could easily be a masterpiece in the making.
So what do you think? How do you feel about the thought of a sequel to The Lion King, and what would you like it to be about? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Far and away the best of a slew of recent live-action remakes of animated Disney classics, Mulan blends the fantastical whimsy and stylized beauty of the 1998 film with the epic, somber maturity of the ancient Chinese ballad of Hua Mulan (Liu Yifei), finding its balance in a delicate sweet spot that it has difficulty maintaining the whole way through – but it manages, thanks to Niki Caro’s direction and an extraordinary ensemble cast: and in several instances it doesn’t just stay on par with 1998’s Mulan, but dares to soar above and beyond the constraints from which other live-action remakes have suffered. In only a few places does this version of the story falter or fall behind its predecessor.
Nostalgia (and the ways in which it can be exploited for money) has been both the reason why these live-action remakes continue to be made, and also why they often feel watered-down and uninteresting next to their animated counterparts. Afraid to change too much of the “original” stories (I put original in quotes because most of Disney’s classic fairytales are just that; adaptations of far older fairytales), the directors of these remakes choose to simply rearrange plot points inoffensively, and/or bloat the films’ runtimes with filler material: exposition, explanations and lengthy justifications for plot holes in the animated films, and new musical numbers that (with a few exceptions) feel like lackluster imitations of the real thing: though that last problem is made less noticeable when even the live-action recreations of the original songs are usually lackluster imitations (looking at you, the entire soundtrack of 2019’s The Lion King). Mulan, however, never suffers from these problems, because director Niki Caro has made the bold and commendable decision not to lean on nostalgia so heavily, but instead to weave the Chinese source material and the Disney animated film into one beautiful amalgamation of the two that feels like the truest version of the story yet. This decision necessitates removing entire sections of the animated film. Several major characters have been cut out entirely. The animal sidekicks and their hijinks are absent. The songs have been dropped. And most importantly, the tone of the story has changed entirely: Mulan was always one of the funniest, zaniest Disney movies, but this version feels more like an accessible, family-friendly tribute to the wuxia genre’s greatest hits, particularly Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. In retrospect it’s obvious that, while the animated Mulan remains my personal favorite version of the story and my favorite Disney animated movie, this is how the legend of Mulan deserved to be told all along: as a war film with dark, adult themes, masterfully choreographed action scenes, and beautiful, luxurious imagery.
As for Mulan herself, the woman who disguised herself as a male soldier to take her father’s place in battle is a national heroine in China, and it’s no secret that Chinese audiences never liked how she was written in the animated film. This time around, Liu Yifei embodies a quieter, more reserved version of the character, who is hiding her inner power from herself and her family. But the key aspects of Mulan’s personality have not been changed: she is still a strong-willed woman endeavoring to carve out a place for herself in a world dominated by an unwavering patriarchy. If anything, these aspects have only been emphasized through the way the story has changed.
Gong Li’s character, the mysterious and absolutely stunning sorceress Xianniang, balances out Mulan’s storyline with her own sad, cautionary tale. Like Mulan, she is a woman with aspirations and ambitions, but unlike Mulan, she has already fully embraced herself and her truth before the story opens; and it is for that reason that she now finds herself an unwanted outcast on the fringe of society, reviled even by her allies, who feels compelled to try and warn Mulan of the dangers she will face if she ever tries to upset the “natural” order of things. Her complex relationship with Mulan forms the film’s emotional core, and, side-note, has already sparked substantial interest from members of the LGBTQ+ community who have pointed out that, in the original ballad, the character of Xianniang is Mulan’s best friend and maybe love interest. There’s hints of that chemistry in their interactions here, although Mulan has a more explicitly romantic relationship (in fact, too explicit for some Chinese audiences) with a new male character named Honghui (Yoson An), a soldier in her regiment.
Throughout the film, a great deal of the plot revolves around Mulan trying to unlock her qi, an internal life-force that can give her gravity-defying acrobatic and martial arts skills, if only she can learn to control it. Xianniang is already in touch with her own qi, though she has been using it for evil for many years. It is this qi which allows both women to shine most brilliantly in their numerous action scenes, which – thankfully – have not all been revealed in the trailers. Xianniang, in particular, has a lot of tricks and surprises up her long, flowing silk sleeves (which themselves double as weapons designed for quick and easy strangulation of all enemies within about a ten-foot radius).
The animated Mulan had numerous story issues, but none was bigger than the problem with its villain, the Hun leader Shan Yu: who was definitely one of Disney’s most terrifying and threatening villains, but maybe not one of the studio’s most well-written or dynamic. That problem has been solved. The duo of Rouran warlord Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee) and Xianniang, and the bond of mutual distrust between the two is very well-written. Bori Khan isn’t quite as menacing as his animated counterpart, but he has a much cooler look, a much more personal motive, and a much more compelling performance. Although in the trailers you’ve seen him and Xianniang working together, the movie establishes early on that their pairing is necessary for both to achieve victory, but is by no means motivated by any strong affection for the other. I absolutely love characters who have separate needs and wants, so this development worked for me.
There are several other standouts in the cast who make so much of their roles that they’ve instantly surpassed the animated versions of their characters. Mulan’s father, war veteran Hua Tzo (Tzi Ma), has a much larger role to play in the story, and his character’s kindness and genuine love and respect for his daughters made me very happy to see: I particularly enjoyed watching his internal conflict play out, as he tried to reconcile Mulan’s unconventional dreams with the more strict, uptight wishes of his community and culture. The village matchmaker, no longer a grotesque caricature, has a slightly expanded role and even gets a moment of payoff to her character arc that I never knew she needed. And The Emperor (Jet Li), while no longer charming or sassy, is again less of a caricature and more of an actual character, who even gets to participate in the third act battle. I did miss the antics of the Hua family’s matriarch, Grandmother Fa, but I never once found myself bemoaning the loss of the diminutive dragon Mushu or the lucky Cricket Cri-Kee (oddly, the lucky cricket does show up in a way, but not how you might expect). Mulan has gained a new animal guardian: a majestic Phoenix, which follows her on her journey. It’s not a very talkative bird, but it is very pretty to look at, and it feels much more appropriate with the tone of this movie.
There are only two major instances where the 2020 film stumbles in comparison to the 1998 film. Neither one is a spoiler (unless you don’t know anything about the animated Mulan), so I can share both. The first is the iconic scene where Mulan dons her disguise and flees her home to join the army: in the animated film, this scene is set to a pounding, exhilarating piece of music, and is loaded with striking, memorable imagery: the rain and the lightning making bold silhouettes, the reflective sword-blade slicing Mulan’s hair, Mulan’s father stumbling in the mud and the bejeweled comb flying from his hand. In this version, it’s all over in a matter of moments, and lacks all of that potent symbolism. In fact, many of the iconic shots and symbols of the animated movie are gone completely; however, in most instances they have been replaced by visual cues that are almost as compelling. To name a few: a sprig of flower blossoms discreetly hiding Mulan from view as she bathes in a lake; droplets of blood falling ominously from one of Xianniang’s wounded claws during a fight; a lone soldier descending an unbelievably long flight of stairs in the Imperial City; and a number of extraordinary uses of fabric, such as Mulan twirling in purple silk, a black scarf untwisting around Bori Khan’s face and being caught in a desert wind, Xianniang’s deadly sleeves swirling heavily through the smoke of battle. None of them, however, match the power of a dead girl’s doll resting in the snow, or a flower blooming in adversity.
The second misstep is the pacing. This is a movie that needed to be much longer than it ended up being. The first thirty minutes fly along far too quickly, barely giving us any time to indulge in the opulent Hua family household or explore the dynamic of their peaceful village before we’re whisked off to war. Throughout the film, this continues to be a problem: the entire story feels rushed right up until the third act. A large part of why that is has to do with the lack of songs, because it’s important to remember that in the animated film, songs don’t just act as cheerful interludes between plot points – they literally are plot points. And if you’re going to remove them entirely, you can’t just leave blank spaces where they used to be: you need to do the work to replace them. This is done most effectively with You’ll Bring Honor To Us All, which is effectively supplanted with nuanced dialogue and a sprinkling of exposition that doesn’t feel heavy-handed or forced. But nowhere is it more badly handled than with A Girl Worth Fighting For: without that song, it’s impossible for the film to effectively recreate that shocking transition from the animated film where the untested Imperial army suddenly, unexpectedly, runs into the site of a brutal massacre. And without Reflection, we never get to fully understand Mulan’s motivations from her own point of view – and because we spend hardly any time in her village, that scene isn’t replaced by anything, so she sets out to war before we’ve even had time to understand why. Earlier in this review I criticized the remakes that bloat the story with filler material: but I’m not going to let this one off the hook because it does the opposite and subtracts important story beats without putting anything in their place.
But even with what feels like so little time, Mulan still captivates the heart and captures the eyes’ undivided attention, and it left me feeling satisfied – and wanting more. Sign me up for the next movie! Even though this remake doesn’t surpass the animated movie, it’s the first Disney live-action remake that feels justified: as if it’s actually taking steps toward trying out new things and making exciting creative choices…not all of which pay off entirely, but all of which feel intentional.
In times of crisis, it can be comforting to know that not everything has been canceled or delayed indefinitely. The Little Mermaid live-action remake may not be sailing into port any time soon, but it is still coming to a theater near you, and today we’ve learned that a big name may have just joined the cast of the fishy fairytale. The brilliant folks over at The DisInsider broke the news that singer/songwriter Kacey Musgraves has been circling the role of Vanessa in The Little Mermaid, and that, while she’s not locked in just yet, she has spoken with Disney executives via Zoom call to discuss the subject.
Musgraves as Vanessa is an unexpected casting choice that is sure to provoke renewed interest in the film – but then again, so was Halle Bailey as Ariel and Melissa McCarthy as Ursula: and for a moment there, so was Harry Styles as Eric until he passed on the coveted role. Like Halle Bailey, she is better known for her career in music than in movies: she is a nine-time Grammy nominee, and six-time winner, and one of the most well-known female country singers working today. But she’s also a frequent collaborator with Disney – just last year, she performed All Is Found for the closing credits of Frozen II…the song is somewhat forgettable, and I don’t understand why she wasn’t chosen to sing something more powerful like Show Yourself, but don’t get me started on the ways in which that song was robbed. Anyway, she’s established a relationship with the studio, and that’s clearly paid off.
For those who have been living under a seashell for the past thirty years, Vanessa is the human disguise of shapeshifting sorceress Ursula in The Little Mermaid, who shows up for a couple of scenes near the end of the movie to try and steal Eric away from Ariel and prevent the mermaid from scoring a true love’s kiss. Vanessa uses Ariel’s stolen singing voice to easily win over the prince (I’ve always disliked Eric, despite the fact that this technically isn’t his fault), and the two hastily arrange a marriage on the prince’s ship – a marriage which is interrupted by Ariel and her animal sidekicks when they overhear Vanessa singing about her evil plan (when will Disney villains ever learn?). Physically, the character of Vanessa matches Kacey Musgraves pretty perfectly. But there is one problem which I hope is resolved.
Vanessa barely ever sings. And while Kacey Musgraves is still a win either way, I can’t help but wonder why Disney would be focused on her for the part if they don’t plan to expand the role of Vanessa and give her more songs beyond the two she has in the original animated film (and when I say she has two, I really only mean she wails beautifully on the beach when seducing Eric and then has two or three lines where she’s maybe singing, maybe just talking melodically about her evil plan). But Howard Menken, who is doing the music for The Little Mermaid, has only written four new songs that we know about – and according to The DisInsider, these consist of a solo number for Eric (he doesn’t need one, but whatever), a duet for Eric and Ariel (have I mentioned I don’t like Eric?), a song for Scuttle the seagull (who will be voiced by Awkwafina, so I’m letting this otherwise ridiculous decision slide), and a solo number for…King Triton, of all people. It’s possible Menken will write additional songs as production gets underway, but for now this is what we know. No new solo numbers for Ariel or Ursula, nothing new for Sebastian, and nothing new for the character of Vanessa. So as of right now, unless Disney simply plans to fill out Vanessa’s Song (the evil plan song: it doesn’t even have a real title, it’s that short) with more lyrics, then I don’t see the reasoning behind Kacey Musgraves’ casting, though I am still excited for her.
What do you think of this new casting for The Little Mermaid? Do you hope to see Vanessa’s role expanded and/or new songs written for her? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
A lot of people complain about the recent deluge of Disney live-action remakes, and, despite the fact that I personally have liked almost all of said remakes (with the glaring exception of The Lion King), I can understand the reasoning behind these complaints. More often than not, Disney has rigidly insisted on remaking all of their most beloved classics – films like Aladdin, Cinderella, Beauty And The Beast, The Jungle Book…films that are already so good or at least iconic, that it’s hard to add anything new to the story. That’s why I’m so happy that, at long last, the studio is looking to remake a couple of its more niche or less popular films. Films like Hercules (oh, and also Robin Hood).
Hercules has a huge cult following, to no one’s surprise. The film is a lot of fun, it’s got some pretty good songs, and the characters are hilarious and endearing – especially the villainous Hades, and the snarky princess Megara. But thanks to a poor box-office performance, Hercules is often neglected by both the studio that made it and general audiences: not quite as much as, say, Atlantis: The Lost Empire or Treasure Planet, but enough that neither Hercules nor Megara are considered official Disney royalty, despite being the prince and princess of Olympus and its huge pantheon of gods. Incredibly unfair, if you ask me. But thankfully, the film will now get a second chance to prove its worth, in the form of an upcoming live-action remake (special shout-out to the folks at The DisInsider for obtaining this awesome new scoop).
Along with the news that the film is being remade for a theatrical debut and a hint that it will be a musical like the original (unless, I suppose, the non-musical Mulan remake does so well that Disney rethinks that strategy), there’s also several rumors of possible directors for the coveted project. Jon Favreau is probably the most obvious choice on the shortlist thanks to his work on the massively successful The Jungle Book and The Lion King remakes, but, from a creative standpoint, he seems like a weak option: perhaps The Lion King was just a fluke, but it’s also indicative of a mentality I personally don’t want to be applied to Hercules – adapting one of Disney’s more niche properties should be an opportunity for a more unique, creative vision, and Favreau’s has…not been that. And look, I’m not going to sit here and say that Bill Condon brought anything revolutionary to Beauty And The Beast, or that Guy Ritchie was able to leave his own distinct mark on Aladdin, but at least they added new material to the plot and expanded on some things, however small: The Lion King really didn’t do anything to widen the world or broaden the scope of the story. Then again, Favreau has proved to be a great producer on The Mandalorian, so I wouldn’t be averse to him having a role behind the scenes – but I don’t think he’d be the best choice for director.
The other names currently being floated are Gore Verbinski and the Russo Brothers. The former you will recognize as the director of Disney’s original Pirates Of The Caribbean trilogy (which, incidentally, I just watched a few days ago, and have been meaning to review), and the latter as the directing duo behind Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Now, I really like the Russo Brothers – despite some gripes I have with Endgame, I think the Russo’s are both extremely talented directors. But Verbinski…he’s the one I want helming the Hercules remake. His skill with action scenes and his eye for detail would help to make the film visually stunning, atmospheric, and appropriately epic for an adaptation of an ancient Greek myth.
As with any remake, there’s an opportunity for Disney to both honor the animated classic while updating the story with more modern sensibilities: due to the fact that Hercules has a smaller fanbase than the studio’s big hits, there’s probably an even greater likelihood that this remake could feature a number of changes – if I had to guess, I’d imagine that Megara will get a larger role, and probably won’t be subjected to the satyr Philoctetes’ unwanted advances, which, in the original film, quickly crossed a line into what would be considered harassment. And I’d love to see the remake draw more heavily from actual Greek mythology – the animated film was not very faithful to the Hercules myths, which means there’s a lot of room to improve on that front: though I’m 99% certain we still won’t see the actual Hercules origin story onscreen, as it involves Zeus cheating on his wife by disguising himself as the husband of a mortal woman.
There’s no word yet on who will be cast in the remake, though the internet is already abuzz with theories – the general consensus is that the Muses should be played by some of pop culture’s most talented black performing artists, from Beyoncé to Lizzo to Janelle Monaé, while singer Ariana Grande, coming off a strong and well-received recent performance of Megara’s ballad “I Won’t Say I’m In Love” appears to be the top choice to play the princess. As for Hades, I still maintain that Jeff Goldblum would be the ideal candidate for the zany, campy role, but I’m open to suggestions.
So what do you think of a Hercules remake? Who would you like to see come onboard as director? Who should star? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Many Disney detractors like to ask how the studio’s recent deluge of live-action remakes are in any way different from their earlier, animated counterparts: well, now we seem to have our answer. In some cases at least, these live-action remakes will serve as jumping-off points to larger, wholly original franchises – based in the remakes, but then expanding beyond them into new, uncharted territory. So far, the 2019 remake of Aladdin has both a sequel and a spinoff series coming in the near future; 2017’s Beauty And The Beast has a spinoff series in the works; and now, according to rumors, the upcoming Mulan remake will also receive a sequel.
Now, if you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know I’m excited to see what director Niki Caro and her team have done with my favorite Disney animated classic. Mulan is already a fabulous story, and Caro seems to have done her best to make this remake in particular a more unique and visionary interpretation of the source material – she has borrowed inspiration not only from the animated film, but also from the ancient Chinese ballad that is held dear by the people of Mulan‘s native culture. But still, one has to wonder: how can Disney be so confident in the film that they’ve already begun early production on a sequel, when they can’t even be confident in the film’s release date?
Mulan was originally supposed to premiere in theaters late last month, meaning this would be around the time we would probably have started hearing all these sequel rumors anyway. But now, with the swift advent of the coronavirus pandemic, Mulan‘s release has been delayed to late July, taking the spot that had been reserved for Disney’s Jungle Cruise. With no end to the crisis in sight, July seems very optimistic – even if movie theaters are reopened by then, will audiences feel comfortable going back to them? And the biggest question is what will happen in China, where Mulan has always been hoping to make a large percentage (or even a majority) of its money: that country, unfortunately, has been one of the hardest hit by coronavirus, and we simply have no idea when their economy will be up and running again – and their film industry, which had been one of the largest in the world prior to the virus, will likely suffer irreparable damage.
There is no word on what the sequel will be about, or how it will expand on the story in Caro’s Mulan. Caro herself isn’t confirmed to be returning yet, and nor are the cast (though, at the very least, one has to imagine that Liu Yifei will return as Mulan: unless, of course, the personal controversies surrounding the actress prevent her from staying with the franchise). But as someone who already loves the look of the new remake, I’d be very excited to see where a sequel could take us. With the amount of effort that has clearly been poured into every aspect of the film’s world-building, it seems almost a shame not to continue the story – but it also sounds like a risky endeavor at the moment, when we can’t even be sure that Mulan will (a) make its release date, or (b) make enough money to cover its huge budget, much less enough to warrant a sequel.
What do you think? Does Mulan need a sequel, or do you have to wait to see the movie before you can decide? Do you like the idea of more Disney live-action remakes being turned into new franchises? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Whereas the first trailer for the Jungle Cruise movie leaned heavily on old action movie tropes, wondrous and fantastical elements, and a good old-fashioned spirit of adventure, this second trailer does…well, less of that, making me ever so slightly concerned about the quality of this upcoming adaptation of a Disney theme park ride. Nonetheless, there are still reasons not to be afraid, and most of them are right here in this trailer.
Firstly, the chemistry between Dwayne Johnson as a cranky, underpaid riverboat captain on the Amazon River manning the titular jungle cruise and Emily Blunt as a wealthy, idealistic British explorer hunting for a magic cure-all in the jungle is off the charts: they’re hilarious together. I don’t know if their characters will end up in a romance in the film, but it seems almost a shame to put an end to their snappy, irritable banter with each other.
Then, of course, there’s the ridiculously fun scenarios we find our protagonists in: they get attacked by leopards, torpedoed by a rival explorer’s submarine, and stalked by an enraged demonic snake-god from the heart of the jungle: one whom I wish they could have hidden for a while longer. I assume this demon is their ultimate antagonist on the quest for the cure-all tree, yet we already see scenes of him that, unless cunningly edited, look like spoilers to me.
Interestingly, although Disney felt comfortable revealing the big bad in this trailer, they still haven’t shown us anything of their “first openly gay character”, who is here played by comedian Jack Whitehall, and should probably have had a sizable role in the film as Blunt’s character’s brother and the only other member of the Johnson/Blunt exploration down the Amazon.
But my main issue with this trailer is that it’s devoid of some of the antiquated charm that the first trailer had: it makes me feel that the first trailer was lying to me about the tone and atmosphere of the movie, and that’s not a good feeling. After that trailer came out, I raved about Jungle Cruise‘s nostalgic magic. I don’t feel the same way about this trailer. It’s good, but it’s not particularly engaging or eye-catching.
What did you think of this second trailer for Jungle Cruise? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
In the final trailer for Disney’s live-action remake of the animated classic Mulan, our fearless heroine shares the spotlight with two new characters – both villains. While one of the biggest complaints about the original film was that Hun leader Shan Yu was a weak, underwritten antagonist, the same probably won’t be said of this new and (hopefully!) improved version, where the two villains standing in Mulan’s way both look to be fully fleshed-out, compelling, and absolutely terrifying characters.
Bori Khan is the black-scarfed leader of the attacking northerners who, in this film, stand in for the Huns from the 1998 film. Though I already sensed a parallel between Mulan and the Ang Lee classic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, this trailer makes that parallel even clearer by showing Khan leaping over the rooftops of the Imperial City with a host of cloaked henchmen behind him, some of them even flying or walking straight up walls – this is exactly the sort of action that I wanted to see from this movie, and I can’t believe we’re actually getting it. But thankfully, Mulan herself is equipped with the same high-flying fighting skills, which will allow her to take on Khan’s army as an equal.
But her fight for equality has made her another enemy: the ambitious sorceress Xian Lang, whose magical abilities (including the power to shape-shift) has made her Bori Khan’s greatest ally in his war against China. This new trailer hints that Bori Khan’s motivations are personal – he mentions vengeance against his father’s killers – but Xian Lang’s destiny seems a bit grander: she can briefly be seen ascending to the Emperor’s throne in a resplendent golden gown, and challenging Mulan in the Imperial Palace. Her relationship with the heroine looks to be pretty complex, and could be a strong thematic core for the film – at one point she scorns Mulan for “pretending to be something you’re not”, while later she seems to begrudgingly praise her, even smiling as she calls Mulan “a warrior”. Portrayed by Chinese screen queen Gong Li, the witch looks like a very cool new addition to the cast.
Jet Li, who plays the revered Emperor of China, also gets a single line in this trailer – the first time we’ve heard him speak in the role. Li, an iconic martial-arts star, hasn’t been seen doing any fighting in the film just yet, but I hope he gets to move from his golden throne at some point.
All in all, this movie still looks amazing – more so now than it ever has: it’s got intense action scenes, nuanced drama, high stakes, and beautiful cinematography. If you’re still upset that there’s no comedic relief dragon or songs, well, I don’t know what to say at this point. Are the orchestral arrangements for “Reflection” not good enough for you? Is that stunning phoenix a joke to you? I mean, come on, people! Mulan looks like the best Disney live-action remake to date, and I can’t wait to see it.
There’s a lot of people who don’t like the direction this film is going in. The live-action remake of Disney animated classic Mulan is, indeed, shaping up to be very different from the story that most Western audiences are probably accustomed to: no wise-cracking dragon, no flashy musical numbers, plus a darker, more atmospheric tone. It’s almost an entirely new movie. Now, you all know how much I love the original Mulan – that movie is very special to me, and I love it as it is.
But at the same time, I have to admit that this Mulan looks…better. At the very least, it looks like the best live-action remake Disney has done yet. At best, it looks like a Best Picture nominee (just so you know, I’m not kidding about that).
This version of Mulan is clearly borrowing a lot from the style and story of martial arts classics such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which features a similar story of a young woman who escapes from an arranged marriage to seek a life of adventure. There’s even a whole bunch of fancy wire-work action scenes in the trailer, something I am ecstatic about: my personal favorite example has to be when our villains, Bori Khan and his army of Hun invaders, literally jump from horseback onto the sides of the Great Wall of China and proceed to run straight up the wall. Khan is allied with a powerful witch, played by Chinese screen legend Gong Li, who is like this movie’s version of the Jade Fox – and though we were all worried about the idea of a new antagonist, her character looks like one of the highlights of the film: she’s decked out in one of the most beautiful outfits I’ve ever seen onscreen, and she has bird talons for hands. Like the Jade Fox, she’s also merciless and brutal: I wouldn’t be surprised if Mulan becomes the first PG-13 Disney Princess movie.
The trailer beautifully showcases the film’s majesty – while the original Mulan was largely comedic, this version is more beautiful and elegant: again, very much like Crouching Tiger. While it’s still very clearly built from a story we all know and love, this film also looks like it’s taking more risks than the live-action Cinderella, Beauty & The Beast, Dumbo, Aladdin and The Lion King – combined. In each of those cases, the filmmakers were tentative about adding new elements to the story, or removing classic characters, songs, etc. Director Niki Caro clearly doesn’t have that problem, nor should she. Instead of trying to work around the constraints of the original film, Caro is going to tell her own story – and she’s going to tell it her own way. She’s not going to try and shove Mushu in there just to please fans, because that wouldn’t work in the story she’s telling. She’s not going to pause the movie to throw in a couple of songs, because her movie doesn’t have time for them (though she does use instrumental versions of the classic songs such as Reflection). That sort of bravery should be respected and admired, especially at a time when filmmakers (especially for franchise properties) are being told not to break with tradition or disregard the “nostalgia factor”. And when filmmakers do rebel, they get torn to pieces – look at what happened to Rian Johnson after he dared to tell a radically new Star Wars story in The Last Jedi. Don’t let that happen to Caro, and Mulan.
Clearly, I’m impassioned, and I hope that many people are – this movie looks so brilliant, just from this teaser trailer, that I want to see it succeed in every way. I want to see it cross the billion-dollar mark at the box-office; I want it to be nominated for Oscars. I want it to bring honor to us all.
The eagerly-anticipated sequel to 2014’s blockbuster Maleficent has a slow-paced, sluggish story that rarely, if ever, matches the splendor of beautiful visuals bursting in rainbow hues on the screen. Having strayed so far from the original fairytale that the occasional name-drops of “Sleeping Beauty” are actually jarring, Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil lacks a clear narrative purpose, but makes up for that with stunning beauty, fabulous world building, and the power of Angelina Jolie’s knife-edged cheekbones.
Never underestimate Jolie’s ability to carry a scene, or even an entire movie, with the sheer force of her presence alone. She commands any scene she walks (or flies) into, and her physicality conveys the depths of her emotions far better than any of the rather poorly-written dialogue she is given. She’s still not really the Maleficent that most Disney fans are familiar with, and she’s never likely to be, except in those behind the scenes photos and videos that somehow give off more classic Mal vibes than anything in the actual movie: but what we get from Jolie is just as good – a raven-dark persona with a heart of gold, wielding height, severity, and an impressive wardrobe. In short, she’s the witch-mood, without actually being a witch. Jolie is only rarely able to make much use of the CGI wings her character is burdened with, but does achieve some form of composure when she’s in flight or descending with the force of a small helicopter (on the other hand, her “hovering” scenes leave much to be desired). Nonetheless, she’s still able to do more with them than her co-star Chiwetel Ejiofor, who fights a losing battle with the wings of his troubled Dark Fae character, Conall, for most of the movie. While it’s Conall who carries Maleficent to safety early in the film’s run-time, it’s Maleficent who returns the favor and carries the entire movie in her clawed grip, though she has so little competition until Michelle Pfeiffer’s Ingrith heats up the forges of war, that it’s hardly a surprise.
In the first half of the movie (the weaker half), the script leans heavily on the “romance” between Elle Fanning’s Aurora and Prince Phillip of Ulsted (Harris Dickinson), two of the most boring and frustratingly naive people to ever step foot in a Disney movie. Fanning has her moments, but the role is so underwritten in this movie that she doesn’t get much time to do anything in particular: almost at once, she is forced to neglect her only duties as Queen of the Moors when Phillip proposes to her, and so we never get to see her develop a close relationship with her subjects – as the leader of an entire nation, she fails spectacularly, attempting to have peace for peace’s sake, without considering any of the subtleties involved with aligning oneself with a foreign and possibly hostile power. As for Phillip, he shows up every so often in a loose-fitting shirt to stare dreamily into the camera, as Disney princes so often do: his only concern in the movie is Aurora’s safety, and he too is thwarted so many times, and so dramatically, that he’s an almost laughably pathetic addition to the cast. There is no chemistry whatsoever between the two, who spend almost every scene together talking wistfully about fairy politics – hardly romantic material.
Then, Ingrith gracefully steps onscreen, haughty, cool, calculating and formidable in a pair of diamond-encrusted high heels and a pearlescent gown, and for one brief, shining moment in the faux Camelot constructed for the film, the violent, power-hungry Queen appears to be one of Disney’s best villains in recent history. She handles a loaded crossbow with ease and assurance, goes through extensive costume-changes that showcase her wealth and luxury, keeps a collection of creepy mannequins, and is accompanied by a black cat: a more classic formula for a villain could not be imagined. But it’s the execution of Ingrith’s power-play that causes things to fall apart: while the heartless queen (speaking of heartless, I give it a couple of years before Ingrith shows up in a new iteration of the Kingdom Hearts Disney video game franchise) should have been an easy parallel to the caring mother that is Maleficent, the movie largely misses the mark with Ingrith, never quite using her (admittedly vicious) ambition to the full potential, never quite exploring the depths of her hatred for fairy-kind. She nearly gets there! She has a striking visual style, looking for all the world like the White Queen off a chess-board of death, and an intricate plan to establish total control of the fairy realm. She is certainly an active character, driving much of the plot, and she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty with the blood (or magical dust) of innocents – and yet the film establishes her as so aloof, so high and mighty, that she never actually seems involved in the action she’s causing: not until she’s threatened, and in a place of weakness: and, well, who wants that? She could have made for an incredibly fun villain, one operating from the topmost pinnacle of the impossible heights of her CGI cathedral – but to achieve that, she would need effective servants, loyal to her cause. And the only one who fits the bill is her henchwoman Gerda (Jenn Murray), who is in absentia during the third act due to a sudden fit of musical ecstasy that sees her transform into a crazed, sadistic prodigy of Mozart. The scene in which this happens is one of the most memorable in the entire film, just for the absolute craziness of the scenario, but it does rather undermine Ingrith’s own control over the hearts of her servants (the rest of whom might betray her at the drop of a hat).
But craziness is what keeps Mistress Of Evil aloft for as long as it does, right up until a predictably average ending. Whether we’re watching Gerda tickle the ivories and take down waves of innocent fairies (there’s a surprising amount of death in this movie!), or witnessing the rituals of the Dark Fae with their vast, multi-colored wings and distinctly unique cultures, there’s always something to look at – occasionally so many things at once, such as when Maleficent first soars through the realm of the Dark Fae – that it’s hard for one’s eyes to focus, there’s just so much. In terms of visual spectacle, the film outdoes itself time and time again, culminating in a final battle that is actually surprisingly engaging and emotional, and sees humanity pitted against the Dark Fae in a war for peace.
There’s a lot of stuff going on in Mistress Of Evil, and thus a lot of themes and messages that the story tries to get across, with varying degrees of success. One line of dialogue delivered at the end of the movie attempts to sum everything up by saying that “we’re not defined by where we’re from, but by whom we love”. But in my opinion, no dialogue from the imaginations of scriptwriters Linda Woolverton, Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue can achieve what is already being said countless times throughout the movie, without a single word spoken: that the entire story is focused on the mother/daughter relationship between Maleficent and Aurora. War rages around them, and this time between them, they are parted and reunited, but they endure. And the vividness with which their relationship is realized is a stark contrast to the flimsy connection between Ingrith and her son, which is nothing more than a shapeless concept that goes nowhere: as I previously noted, there was plenty of potential for a parallel there, but the film loses its one and only chance to demonstrate this parallel by not having Ingrith ever try to kill her son or even hinder his actions very effectively, despite how many chances she gets, and how much motivation she would have for doing so: yet it seems like such an obvious choice, in light of what else happens in the movie, that I can’t imagine that it was never discussed.
One of the most interesting elements of the entire Maleficent franchise is its focus on femininity, and a different kind of strong female character than is usually seen in modern film: the three women at the heart of Mistress Of Evil are diplomats and politicians rather than warriors – even Ingrith, unabashedly a warmonger, only bears arms under dire circumstances; for most of the film, she exercises her power either from behind or atop a throne. Maleficent, meanwhile, moves in the shadows, preferring wars of wit to open conflict: and as for Aurora, she is sunny, optimistic and gentle, ruling with kindness and tender compassion. Yet all three are rightly considered powerful forces in the world they inhabit, as queens and unchallenged guardians of their respective plots of land. And there is one female character (no spoilers!), who has only a small role throughout the film, but a critical part to play in the third act: the culmination of her arc has a ripped-from-the-headlines quality that is at once startling, heartbreaking, and thought-provoking.
With so much progressive, forward-thinking messaging going on, there is one notable instance that stands out to me as either a bad – and unintentional – decision on the filmmakers’ part, or a conscious decision with a third film in mind (a third film that will only happen if Mistress Of Evil takes off at the box-office): and that decision is putting humans in control of fairies. It screams of colonialism every time it gets brought up, and the film outright denounces it, but never actually does anything about it when it’s Aurora, our heroine, doing it. Queen Ingrith has a point when she tells Aurora that there’s more to ruling a kingdom than running around barefoot with flowers in one’s hair – but, well, Ingrith is evil, so obviously Aurora doesn’t actually heed her warning or do anything to remedy the glaring problem. She’s simply not a very effective queen, and she spends probably ten minutes (at most) with her own people – but we’re supposed to trust that she’s the best person for the job because…she left the fairies in the lurch while she went off to plan her wedding? She angered Maleficent and caused her to leave the moors unguarded against human threats? She did basically nothing for the rest of the film? The film never adequately explains why a human should be allowed to rule fairy affairs, and the open hostility from the Dark Fae makes one wonder if everything will really be fine and dandy after Aurora’s marriage to Phillip firmly establishes that more, not less, human interference is on the horizon.
However, unlike some films, Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil successfully stands on its own, requiring no previous knowledge of the franchise to follow along with its plot and leaving no cliff-hangers or unresolved storylines to torment the viewer afterwards – all in all, this movie is not what I would call necessary viewing, but it is fun, beautiful and spectacular. And it has got Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer together onscreen, which is itself worth the price of admission.
Who expected Maleficent to be the year’s most epic family drama? Even Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, with its all-stars cast, pales in comparison to a film starring Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer as rivals vying to control – and mother – the rebellious young princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), in one epic custody battle involving magic, witchcraft, and giant bears ripping people limb-from-limb. We even get the pleasure of watching Jolie literally turn people into burning skeletons, while Pfeiffer takes aim at her with a hefty-looking crossbow, and – wait a moment: this is a Disney movie?
Indeed it is, proving that the Mouse House isn’t afraid to take some risks every now and again. After the first teaser for the film dropped, I was a little worried that the whole thing was just going to be a sparring match of witty one-liners between Jolie and Pfeiffer, and it might still boil down to that in the end: Jolie’s performance as the demonic sorceress Maleficent seems to be mostly about evoking a “mood” – with lines like “Don’t ruin my morning!” and “Love doesn’t always end well” dropped as if they’re mantras to live by, while her variety of outfits continue to stun and dazzle (though I still hate the wings: even worse, there’s more wings on the way, but we’ll get to that in a moment). Pfeiffer’s character, the Queen Ingrith, is quite clearly a villain: the smirk on her face as she embraces Aurora makes it kind of obvious that she’s not just concerned for the princess’ well-being – though it’s still a little unclear as to why she wants to risk open war with Maleficent’s forces of magic. As we go “beyond the fairytale”, a lot of things become unclear.
Granted, there’s still a lot of good stuff in the trailer: the darker elements are still very cool and surprising; Jolie and Pfeiffer are still good actresses, so their dynamic looks interesting and it does appear that we will indeed get some intense showdowns between them, such as I asked for after the first trailer; the production values look great (except for Jolie’s wings and horns: for some reason, Maleficent is the only character in the film whose costumes look completely bizarre and uncomfortable). The first film was criticized for relying too heavily on special effects, but honestly…the special effects look like they’ve only gotten better. There’s a real sense of danger from the trailer, something that Disney doesn’t often indulge in – I genuinely don’t know what will happen: will Maleficent conquer the forces that oppose her, and win back her adopted daughter? Will Aurora choose to leave the beguiling witch, and instead risk it all for true love? And what’s going on at the end of the trailer?
Near the end, we watch Jolie’s character get hit by crossbow arrows – fired by some of Ingrith’s own henchmen, or at least it appears that way. Anyway, she falls into the sea and is saved by a strange dark shape, that carries her away to some other mystical place of labyrinthine tunnels and glowing caverns where she encounters…Chiwetel Ejiofor? Sorry, that’s Chiwetel Ejiofor dressed up with horns and giant wings (wings that look just as ridiculous as Jolie’s). In fact, it turns out there’s a whole bunch of other demons like Maleficent (all of them winged and horned, to my dismay), and they want her to join them in their…war against Ingrith? Quest for world domination? Hunt for a better costume designer?
I don’t know what’s going on there, but it looks like both Maleficent and Aurora will be conflicted as their mother/daughter relationship is tested by the forces of evil – including Maleficent herself.
Typically, the Marvel Cinematic Universe dominates all the movie industry headlines, but these last few weeks it’s been all Disney live-action remakes, all the time. Probably no coincidence that this comes right after the huge success of Disney’s Aladdin, a film for which fans have already begun eagerly demanding a sequel. Now, after a whole bunch of “controversy” about black Ariel and Melissa McCarthy playing Ursula the sea-witch, Disney is back on track, releasing the first trailer for their upcoming remake of the animated classic, Mulan.
Let me warn you, I’m a big fan of Mulan: it’s my all-time favorite Disney movie. I was actually planning to watch the film before the trailer dropped. But it’s a little too late to do that now, so here we are: the trailer has arrived.
It’s beautiful: it opens with a shot of Mulan riding a horse through the grasslands of central China, and goes wild from there, with spectacular scenes of our heroine preparing for her ill-fated meeting with the matchmaker, leaping across rooftops in the Imperial City, and wielding a sword in the heat of battle. It doesn’t look like any of the remakes Disney has been turning out recently: there are none of the original film’s songs (though there are nods to them, such as when Mulan says “I will bring honor to us all”, and the instrumental music takes the shape of that classic tune); it has action, rather than dreamy romance, such as we saw in the trailers for Beauty & The Beast or Aladdin; it’s intimate, and dramatic, and the focus is largely on the characters and their story, presented as if it’s brand new, rather than filtered through the “nostalgia-factor” that Disney has traditionally indulged in when marketing their remakes.
In large part, it is brand new – we already know that this movie will be very different from the animated film, but this trailer highlights some of these changes. We see Mulan fighting as a woman, even though in the original film she never fought on the battlefield unless disguised as a man. There’s a lot more martial arts prowess on display here. There’s no sign of the new character said to be taking over the role of Mulan’s former love-interest, Shang. There’s absolutely no hint whatsoever of Mushu, or the phoenix which will apparently replace him. What we have here is something almost like an entirely original movie, one that looks much more epic: there’s no jokes either – though that’s something Disney seems to do, where they hide all the humor until you actually get to the film and realize that it’s a hilarious comedy. They did that with Aladdin too.
Oh, I’m nervous: I don’t know what to say. Mulan has such a special place in my heart, and I really want this movie to live up to that. And it looks really good, but it looks so…so new. I don’t know how to judge it when everything is so subtly different from what I’m expecting. Mulan herself seems very tough, very determined, and incredibly skilled: I’m not sure exactly how she’s able to do all these amazing backflips and twirls and whatnot – in the original film, she was resourceful and quick-thinking rather than being invincible. There I go again, comparing the two: but I have to. This trailer is confusing me. At least it has the avalanche.
You understand, don’t you? What do you think of the trailer? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
And no, that’s not Halle Berry, it’s Halle Bailey. Go get your eyes checked.
Halle Bailey is the nineteen year-old singer and actress best known for her R&B singing duo, Chloe x Halle, and her role on the hit TV show Grown-ish, is officially joining Disney for their live-action The Little Mermaid. And she’s not just playing a bit part – she’s actually going to be the Little Mermaid, as in, she is playing Ariel. That’s right: for the first time in forever, Disney is race-bending one of their princesses! And it’s perfect.
First of all, Halle Bailey can sing, and she has an amazing voice: in fact, while listening to her cover of “Unforgettable” – go check it out, you’ll thank me – I was struck by how much she sounded like she had just strolled out of the 1920s: she would have made a fantastic Tiana in a live-action Princess And The Frog. But as Ariel – oh, I’m so excited! Her voice is so just so perfect. I don’t even know exactly why, but it just…well, it just is. It’s not the kind of teeny-bopper vocal range I was expecting Disney to go for with their live-action Ariel: that was my fear, in fact, after I started hearing rumors that Harry Styles had been cast as Prince Eric, alongside Zendaya as Ariel.
Now, I know there are going to be people complaining that Zendaya didn’t get the role, after people have been basically begging her to join the cast. But I’ve got to say, having seen Spider-man: Far From Home just yesterday, I’m not too unhappy about that. Don’t get me wrong – Zendaya is a good actress, and I know that, but I’m not on her hype-train right now, and that’s why this news comes at such a perfect moment. I’m open to suggestions – and this suggestion, so unexpected, so fresh, so unique…is a miracle.
And then there are going to be people complaining that Ariel isn’t black, and that Disney shouldn’t race-bend a Caucasian princess: their reasoning will be that the original fairytale off of which The Little Mermaid is based is a Danish story, and the majority of Danish people are white. Well, guess what – Disney’s version of The Little Mermaid doesn’t take place in Denmark: it’s set in the Caribbean, where the majority of the population is black or Hispanic. By making her white in the original movie, Disney was race-bending, just like they race-bent Aladdin and Jasmine, making them Arabic instead of Chinese. Having a black woman play Ariel is the perfect way to show that Disney actually cares about making their films accurate, at least a little. Granted, the film will still include mermaids, so we can probably throw accuracy to the winds.
This news is especially advantageous since it comes right after Melissa McCarthy was cast as Ursula, in a shocking move that upset almost everybody. One of the biggest complaints was that Ursula should have been portrayed by a woman of color – now, through this genius casting decision, Disney has partially made up for that. It would be even better if they would recast Ursula too, but I’ll settle for Ariel – as long as she’s not the only black mermaid under the sea. We know that Asian-American comedian Awkwafina has been cast as Ariel’s seagull companion, Scuttle, so maybe it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that there are lots of different types of merpeople?
So what do you think? Are you happy with the casting choice? Do you think that Ursula should be recast? Leave your thoughts in the comments and stay tuned for more updates!