A ‘Mulan’ Without The Songs

By  · Published on March 20th, 2017

A look at Disney’s live-action remakes to assess whether the music of the originals is still necessary.

As Disney celebrates opening their live-action take of Beauty and the Beast to the tune of $170m domestically, they are also preparing another re-imagining. It should come as no surprise that many of their properities are making the transition to live-action and Mulan is looking like the next movie to get a fresh treatment. The only problem is that Disney is considering releasing the movie without music.

“Yes, from what I understand, no songs right now, much to the horror of my children.” Director of Mulan, Niki Caro.

When the new director of the live-action Mulan sat down with Moviefone while promoting her new film, The Zookeeper’s Wife, she confirmed that Disney has no plans to make the new Mulan a musical. That means all the hit songs you might remember from the original animated film are gone. No “Honor to Us All”, “Reflection”, “A Girl Worth Fighting For.” Probably the most missed song of all will is “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”.

Outside of Beauty and the Beast, this has been the direction of many of the live-action Disney re-imaginings. The Jungle Book managed to keep some of its songs although it wasn’t a musical either. The director of Jungle Book, Jon Favreau, struggled with trying to keep some of the music people adored with the original version, while also favoring the action/adventure tone of his live-action feature. “We wanted to include enough music to satisfy people who grew up w 67 film but not make it a musical or betray action tone,” he said at the time. Cinderella, on the other hand, was without its musical tunes of ‘A Wish Your Heart Makes’ or ‘Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo’, because that just wasn’t the direction the screenwriters wasn’t to go with for that production.

With the way Niki Caro worded her response, she must be disappointed that Mulan won’t feature any of the original music from the animated feature. Disney is doing a lot of things correctly with this new adaptation; they hired Niki Caro (a female director who will become only the second woman ever to helm a feature budgeted at over $100m for Disney), Disney is making a great effort to make sure the film is culturally authentic, and they are setting out to only hire Chinese actors for the parts including Mulan herself. Caro is even promising that Mulan will be “…a big, girly martial arts epic. It will be extremely muscular and thrilling and entertaining and moving.” That should excite many fans of the original, but not bringing the music, at least in some form, would be a mistake.

Disney and musicals have always seemed to go hand-in-hand. Walt Disney himself was always pushing the boundaries of his art by creating cartoons that specialized in the usage of sound. The first appearance of Mickey Mouse was in Steamboat Willie, a cartoon short feature that pushed for being the first synchronized sound cartoon. It opens with Mickey famously whistling a tune that would become synonymous with the cartoon and company for that matter. Disney wouldn’t be pleased with just accomplishing that feat. He took it a step further with Fantastia, marrying classical music to vivid imagery. He was always pushing the limits with animation and music. The Disney Company’s best features continue his vision.

The best Disney films arguably feature the best musical score. Even more successful Disney animated features as of late, like Tangled and Frozen, succeed because they have music that resonates far beyond the brief run times of their films. More often than not, the best films that have come out of Disney have been measured on their soundtracks. When you take the music out of these films, they become a little bit more generic.

Can you imagine if Disney’s Beauty and the Beast didn’t have songs? How about The Lion King? Well thankfully while we already know that Beauty and the Beast and Lion King have their songs in tact, other features aren’t going to be as lucky it seems. It’s hard to imagine many of the Disney classic films without their music, but it seems if it was a film without a truly signature soundtrack, the music is discarded altogether. Other than the two aforementioned films, the upcoming Aladdin and Little Mermaid features will likely be musicals as well.

Hopefully Caro and the screenwriters for Mulan will find someway to include the songs in Mulan. It would be disappointment for sure that only select films are making their transition to live-action with music intact. There’s still sometime for that to change before the film releases late 2018, but until then I plan to listen to ‘ I’ll Make A Man Out Of You’ a few dozen more times at least.

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News Writer/Columnist for Film School Rejects. It’s the Pictures Co-host. Bylines Playboy, ZAM, Paste Magazine and more.