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Awards Profile 2020: Niki Caro’s ‘Mulan’ from Walt Disney Pictures

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Welcome to the 2020 Awards Profile series, where we talk about films coming to a theatre near you in the coming year (at least at this time of writing). The series analyzes the films and their awards season potential, most notably for the Academy Awards, based on the talents attached, filmmakers involved, and story and source material. Monday through Friday until mid-May AwardsCircuit will bring you a new and exciting project and discuss its chances for success. If you have a suggestions for a movie we should cover, include it in the comments section below. If you miss a film covered, click on the tag or category for “Awards Profile.

FILM: “Mulan”

DISTRIBUTOR:  Walt Disney Pictures
DIRECTOR:  Niki Caro
PRODUCERS:  Chris Bender, Jack Weiner, Jason Reed, Barrie M. Osborne, Tim Coddington, Bill Kong, Mario Iscovich
WRITERS:  Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Elizabeth Martin, Lauren Hynek
CAST:  Liu Yifei, Donnie Yen, Jet Li

SYNOPSIS:  A young Chinese maiden disguises herself as a male warrior in order to save her father.

SCHEDULED RELEASE:  To be determined, 2020

POTENTIAL HIGHLIGHTS:

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Disney is on a roll with the live-action remakes of their animated classics, at least at the box office. While “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” have each grossed over $1 billion, none of them have been major awards powerhouses. Although “The Lion King” did garner noms for Visual Effects at the Oscars and Best Original Song at the Golden Globes, it didn’t take home any awards. With its sweeping scale, epic grandness, storyline and visuals, “Mulan” just may be able to level it up.

Twenty-two years after its animated release, “Mulan” returns to inspire and captivate a whole new generation. On top of that, maybe the film can ride some of “Parasite”‘s wave of diverse storytelling with its global appeal, which will strongly resonate at global box offices (particularly in China, although at the time most theaters are closed due to coronavirus concerns). Unfortunately, global box office success doesn’t always translate into awards fodder. But with a strong storyline (based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan dating all the way back to the 6th century), the fact that it’s the first Disney live-action to earn a PG-13 rating and what seems to be a strong performance from international superstar Liu Yifei, “Mulan” just might win critics and voters over.

While filled with epic action and practical effects, the cast is strong (Donnie Yen and Jet Li are also in the film) and without Mushu the sidekick dragon, this version of “Mulan” is going for a more serious, dramatic and award-worthy presentation. There have been other action heavy films that have gotten recognition from the Academy (e.g. “Gladiator,” “The Lord of the Rings” films and Braveheart) so “Mulan” could be in good company as long as all those elements (cast, cinematography, editing, direction, etc.) are cohesive and translate onto the screen.

There is a whole generation of movie viewers who grew up on the Disney’s animated films (“The Lion King,” “Pocahontas,” “The Little Mermaid”), and are generally excited about most of the recent live-action remakes. Many are excited about this one because it is the most “adult” film with its PG-13 rating, subject matter and action. There’s adventure, fantasy, a badass female lead, Jet Li AND Donnie Yen, a female director minus the comedy and musical aspects of the prior film. The nostalgia and epic battle scenes alone are enough to draw viewers. And to top it off so far, the film is getting strong, positive reviews–hopefully it’ll be enough to catch the eye and hearts of the awards season voters.

POTENTIAL CHALLENGES:

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In terms of challenges, there may be a few obstacles and stumbling blocks along the road to awards season. First, history is not on “Mulan’s” side. Prior live-action remakes have not really broken through with the awards crowd, nor have these more epic action-heavy films. Second, the biggest name attached to this film (outside of Disney) is Jet Li, who although he has an amazing and enviable career, it’s mostly work outside of the U.S. mainstream (his last major Hollywood film was “The Expendables 3” in 2014). Although the lead in this film, Yifei is a huge international star, she is fairly unknown to U.S. audiences.

There is no big name draw for this film. Even the director Niki Caro is not super well known to U.S. audiences (she’s directed “Daisy Jones & The Six,” an episode of “Anne With an E” and “The Zookeeper’s Wife”), so none of the names attached have a strong awards season track record. Female directors have a tough time breaking through during awards season anyway (as we’ve seen with likes of Greta Gerwig and Lulu Wang snubs in recent years) and it won’t help Caro’s case that she’s directing a live-action remake that’s action-heavy with no real major Hollywood names attached. Nor does she have a body of work that has done extremely well with critics or awards season.

It also stands to note whether the Academy will let politics influence it’s reception of “Mulan.” After it’s star, Yifei, expressed her support for the Hong Kong police on social media, there were calls for a boycott of the film. This forced Disney into a precarious position as it hopes to appeal to both American audiences and the mainland Chinese box office. There have also been rumblings from fans of the original film over the removal of the Character Captain Li Shang (due to #MeToo movement concerns and the power imbalance in their relation to each other), who was Mulan’s love interest in the first film. Time will tell whether the Academy will treat this film as a serious contender and not let history cloud it’s judgment.

POTENTIAL AWARD CATEGORIES IN PLAY:

  • Director (Niki Caro)
  • Actress in a Lead Role (Liu Yifei)
  • Production Design (Grand Major)
  • Cinematography (Mandy Walker)
  • Costume Design (Bina Daigeler)
  • Film Editing (David Coulson)
  • Makeup and Hairstyling (Denise Kum)
  • Sound Mixing (Anna Behlmer)
  • Sound Editing (Gwendolyn Yates Whittle, Kyrsten Mate)
  • Original Score (Harry Gregson-Williams)

POTENTIAL KEY NOTICES FROM OTHER GROUPS

  • People’s Choice Awards – Best Action Star
  • MTV Movie Awards – Best Fight; Best Villain

Are you excited or skeptical about Niki Caro’s “Mulan?” Please share your thoughts in the comments section below! 

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