Mulan – Reimagined

When Disney’s animated musical action adventure film Mulan came out in 1998, our daughter Amy was 10 years old. I’m not sure what exactly it was in the movie that captivated her, but Mulan became (and remains) her favorite Disney character. I’m pretty sure we wore out at least one  VHS tape, and various pieces of artwork and figurines that she has collected over the years can be found all over her house.

So it was no surprise that when Disney announced in 2015 that a live-action version of Mulan was in the works, Amy was both excited – and a little skeptical. After all, since Disney began producing live-action remakes of their animated classics in 1994, it’s been a pretty hit-or-miss proposition. Some have been pretty good, some have been so-so.

And the 2020 version of Mulan?

ABSOLUTELY. STUNNING.

 

I’ve just returned from a quick trip to Raleigh, NC, where I met Amy for an afternoon movie – the first public showing of Mulan, a preview for Gold members of D23, Disney’s fan club. It was shown following the annual meeting of the Walt Disney Company’s stockholders.

I had been looking forward to the movie’s release on March 27 (I already have tickets), and have intentionally not read or watched a lot about it online. So, my expectations were neutral, reserving judgment until I had a chance to see it in person.

See above

When the VP of D23 introduced the movie, I think it was his words that set the tone and pretty much sum up the approach that made this so successful.

“We’re so excited to unveil Walt Disney’s reimagining of the animated classic.”

Not a remake.

The following comments may contain slight spoilers, so read at your own risk.

  • If you really liked the musical aspect of the 1994 version, you won’t find any of the songs that garnered significant praise and won several industry awards in the new movie.
  • If you liked Mushu, the ancestor’s guardian wonderfully voiced by Eddie Murphy, you won’t find  the character anywhere in the new movie.
  • If you liked the character of Li Shang and the developing romance and implied marriage with Mulan, you won’t find it happening in the new movie.

There’s more, but I think you get the point.

The 2020 version of Mulan is not a remake of the 1994 version of Mulan – and that’s what makes it a marvelous movie; in Disney terms, a reimagining.

  • There’s no songs, but there are musical themes from those songs, along with dialog references.
  • There’s no Mushu, but there is a delightful surprise “guardian” introduced early on who makes regular, timely appearances.
  • There’s no Li Shang, but a couple of different characters more than make up for his absence.

I could go on, but I won’t. I’m not a critic (thank goodness), but I know a good movie when I see one.

One that has a vibrant story, identifiable characters you want to root for (and against), emotional twists, action-packed choreography, and amazing production design.

The soon-to-be-released live action Mulan is all that, and more.

 

Why It’s Always Time to Go Back to the Drawing Board

…a memo from Walt Disney, December 23, 1935, to Don Graham, Disney artist and teacher of animation classes to studio artists

Right after the holidays I want to get together with you and work out a very systematic training course for young animators, and also outline a plan of approach for our older animators.

The following occurs to me as a method of procedure:

Take the most recent pictures – minutely analyze all the business, action, and results, using the better pieces of animation as examples, going thru the picture with these questions in mind:

What was the idea to be presented?

How was the idea presented?

What result was achieved?

After seeing this result – what could have been done to the picture from this point on, to improve it?


 

To put that quote in context, by the early 1930s Walt Disney had built a successful cartoon studio and an empire on the shoulders of Mickey Mouse – but to make the leap from shorts to a feature film, he knew his artists had to develop further.

 

In the beginning, Walt himself drove his artists to the nearby Chouinard Art Institute, then expanded that educational effort by building his own in-house art school like none other.

The following quotes from Walt Disney put his actions into perspective:

The first thing I did when I got a little money to experiment, I put all my artists back in school. The art school that existed then didn’t quite have enough for what we needed, so we set up our own art school.

It was costly to set up training classes, but I had to have the men ready for things we would eventually do.

Walt Disney had a vision to do what no one had done before, and he knew that vision required resources that didn’t exist.

He didn’t give up – he created everything to complete his vision: actions that required invention, patents, training, and unbounded passion.

As a leader, what vision do you have? What resources do you need to bring that vision to reality – even the ones that don’t exist?

Do you need to create a culture of learning?


 

Before Ever After is a treasury of rare and unpublished lecture notes, photographs and drawings which reflect the culture of learning that Walt Disney curated to raise the level of his artists in preparation for their first feature: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Walt hand-picked instructors from the renowned Chouinard Art Institute to hold classes on action and drawing.  He screened films for study.  He brought in talent from Architect Frank Lloyd Wright to choreographer George Balanchine to humorist Alexander Woollcott to teach and inspire his team.  The result is a stunning collection of transcripts and history which not only lay the artistic foundation for the animated art form, but also give us an intimate look inside the walls of Walt Disney’s studio during a seminal and profoundly creative moment in time.

From the authors:

To help rekindle the spirit of that time, we chose to share these transcripts in exactly their original form, printed on animation paper to be distributed to the crew. It is a treasure of artistic information and a series of historic document that should inspire artists, historians, and Disney fans alike, evoking the culture of learning that existed in a time when art, technology, and passion collided inside the gates of the Disney Studio.

 

inspired by Before Ever After: The Lost Lectures of Walt Disney’s Animation Studio, by Don Hahn and Tracey Miller-Zarneke