After the live-action Beauty and the Beast’s musical numbers captivated audiences, it’s strange that Disney would suggest that their upcoming remake, Mulan, should include no singing.
More Disney live-adaptation news comes out every day, and has us simultaneously excited and terrified. This week, the latter feeling was heightened by director Niki Caro’s news that Mulan will not be featuring any of the classic songs from the original animation. No, not even “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You.”
This is only one of the many concerns that have recently been raised by the upcoming film, and the passionate fandom reaction to the news has caused Caro to backtrack slightly in an interview with the LA Times, stating: “We’ve never talked about songs, and no decision has been made.”
But with movies like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King also in line to be remade, the idea of plans being made to do away with the musical aspect of classic Disney films is rather concerning.
While it’s rare nowadays to see live-action films with musical numbers in them, Disney has a long history of continuing with the tradition even once singing and dancing started to fade away from mainstream filmmaking. The charm of movies like The Jungle Book, Aladdin and even Mary Poppins often largely resided in the beauty and enthusiasm of their songs.
Cinderella was the first live-action remake of the recent trend, and although it was still applauded without music, the reception was nothing compared to the warm reviews about Beauty and the Beast. Cinderella simply brought nothing new to the table. And with the legend already being featured often in other films, both live-action and animation, such as Ella Enchanted and Ever After, it was hardly a game-changer.
Screenwriter Chris Weitz explained the reasoning behind the lack of singing in Cinderella:
“I don’t know how to write that kind of thing really, and I think that that’s something that for me, it’s much easier to do that with an animated film. That’s why many of the Disney animated films are musicals. With live action, sort of getting into and out of those moments of song is really super tricky.”
Yes, it is super tricky, but isn’t that what ended up making Beauty and the Beast so great? The fact is, we’ve seen big-budget fantasy romances before, and seen pretty much all CGI under the sun. It takes a lot to wow an audience (and aren’t these remakes being done to avoid exploring new ideas, anyway? But I digress). We aren’t satisfied by quick adaptations to fairytales we already know; we need to see something magical.
The studio clearly learned from Cinderella and directed its creative energies to making Beauty and the Beast an improvement rather than a copy of the original. Both Belle and the Beast are more well-rounded characters, the Stockholm Syndrome themes are smoothed out, and some historical context is given… but what brings it all together so successfully is how magical it is; a perfect balance between realism and the innocent romance that takes us away from the everyday world.
It’s the music that makes Disney unique. Like Weitz said, that’s in great part what made the animations so memorable and catchy. And with Beauty and the Beast, Disney has proven that they can do it in live-action, too.
Aladdin is currently in the casting process, and the casting call points to there being singing in this one. So why even consider cutting out the songs from Mulan, the original of which sports one of the best soundtracks in Disney’s history? Whose songs have empowered a generation (albeit with lyrics full of irony)?
Movies like Maleficient and Snow White and the Huntsman worked because, while having deeper themes, they didn’t advertise themselves as exact remakes. They had an angle meant for an older audience, and moved beyond merely switching animation for actors and adding extra violence.
As an audience, we’re not looking for gritty remakes. The news weighs down on us with its darkness as is, and even DC and Marvel have shifted away from gloom. We want to relive the old animations that were a part of our childhood; with improvements, yes — but also with what made them magical.
An adaptation like Mulan is inherently tied to its musical numbers in the hearts of the audience. When you take out the songs that made the original stand out, the story runs the risk of fading into the already large collection of epic fantasy films, and struggles to stand the test of time. Disney should tread carefully.