A lot of Disney’s live-action remakes of their animated back catalogue suffer from a major lack of originality, with the creative team deciding that it would be a lot easier to simply rely on established shots, plot points, songs and iconography instead of even attempting to take any sort of risks with the material.
The likes of Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King all suffered from being too reverential to the originals, and the only major difference was that they were a whole lot longer than their animated counterparts. That being said, all three of them made well over a billion dollars each at the box office, with The Lion King in particular holding a weak Rotten Tomatoes score of just 52%. But as an all-new version of one of the most beloved Disney movies ever made, it still went on to become the seventh highest-grossing title in history.
Niki Caro’s Mulan made the deliberate decision to distance itself from the 1998 animated classic, and while the historical epic has definitely been tailored to appeal directly to the Chinese market, the creative shift has seen it become the third best-reviewed live-action remake yet behind only Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book and Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella on both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic.
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Fans were upset when they discovered that fast-talking dragon sidekick Mushu would not be involved in the movie, and in a recent interview, Caro explained why she made the decision to omit one of the Mouse House’s most popular sidekicks from her adaptation.
“Mushu, beloved as that character is in the animation, was Mulan’s confidante, and part of bringing it into the live-action is to commit to the realism of her journey, and she had to make those relationships with her fellow soldiers. So there was certainly a lot to work with in that department.”
Realism might be the reason given, but Mulan still features a CGI phoenix that flits in and out of the story along with a shape-shifting witch, and the studio has already admitted that Mushu was removed so as not to offend Chinese audiences. But in terms of the story, Caro is right in saying that an anthropomorphic companion would have stuck out like a sore thumb in the more grounded tale she was determined to tell.