“It’s like going to graduate school, but they’re writing the curriculum as you’re doing it,” explained Mulan producer, Jason T. Reed.
The live-action adaptation of Disney’s 1998 animated film of the same name, based on the Chinese folklore, has finally been released after multiple release date changes and shifts in the platform.
“To be perfectly honest, there’s a bit of disappointment when you set out to make a movie, everybody delivered in every category, and then the conversation becomes about the business model, the distribution approach, and the history that you’re part of, as opposed to the creative achievement of the movie,” he mused. “That said, if you’re going to change it up and be in the middle of a new sort of trend, you’ve got to step up and change it up. In the industry, it’s pretty interesting to be on the inside and see the differences in marketing approach, the differences in how the communication strategy works, and how you connect with audiences and how audiences respond to the movie in different formats.”
Mulan has been released on Disney+ via the new Premier Access model for an additional $29.99 fee on top of the standard subscription. Once purchased, the audience can watch it as many times as they want. Alternatively, they can wait under December to watch it when it will be included as part of the subscription.
Does this mean Mulan will never get a theatrical release in the US?
“Hopefully not,” Reed hoped. “I’m excited for audiences to get to see it on a big screen. When we approached Disney, we wanted to make an epic movie under the Disney brand. I think the movie’s strength is the personal journey and the emotional connection that Mulan makes, particularly with her family. So we’re in a privileged position in that, even though families will be watching it on a smaller screen, our greatest asset is still going to be highlighted. On some of these movies I’ve worked on, if you’re not seeing the spectacle, it’s not a movie you have to run out and see. With Mulan, the spectacle is a great add on to what is fundamentally an emotional journey. So I think that that’s helps us in this situation.”
What about the Premier Access price point? With a reported budget of $200 million, Disney needs to make money, but audiences will also be seeking value for money.
“I don’t want to be a shill for the Walt Disney Company, but personally having two young children, we have certainly got a ton of value out of Disney Plus streaming platform as it is. It’s a very deep catalog. In our house, I confess, Daddy drove the subscription because of The Mandalorian,” Reed confessed. “I think that proved in itself that a lot of these streaming services create a lot of value relative to their price point. I think that this new $30 premium VOD model is really interesting. If you and your date go to the movies, it will cost you more than that. You’ve got your tickets, concessions, parking, and whatever it is, maybe you had to get a babysitter. That’s a fairly significant outlay for a night. If you’re a family, it will cost even more than the $30 each time you want to see it in the theater.”
He caveated, “I would argue that that experience is worth it. I think that the communal experience of watching a movie in the theater will never be replaced, and I don’t think it’ll ever go away. But, particularly in this unique moment, the ability to sit in your house, on your couch with the entire family, I think it offers a real opportunity rather than a negative. Seeing it in a theater might not have been an option. I know that our family is sort of stuck at home, like most families, and we’re constantly trying to find ways to replace the activities that we used to do outside of the house and make something feel special. This is an opportunity to do that. The keyword here is ‘opportunity.’”
Reed also sees the unexpected shift that was virtually forced upon the industry, something that it would have had to face eventually.
“I think that the pandemic has accelerated trends that were already taking place. Technology has enabled a much more sophisticated and dynamic way of reaching consumers. Now we’re seeing the necessity in embracing them fully so that we can engage with audiences. I think in terms of the overall trend of the industry, theatrical becomes another arrow in the quiver of these big media companies,” he explained. “If you want to release a movie on streaming first and then do a theatrical release, you can because now you have a group of people who are engaged with the movie and want to see it differently. If you want to start with the theatrical window, use it as almost like a promotion for the movie and then go into streaming. Also, I think that we will see many new approaches to distribution, a lot of dynamic approaches based on the movie’s content. The ground has been prepped.”
“I think there’s actually a great synergy, and it also creates an interesting market dynamic. Do you see streamers buying theaters, not necessarily ten screens in a city, but do you create the way that Amazon created the Amazon stores, the way they’ve used Whole Foods to give them a local presence in the places where they operate? Do you see Disney or Netflix or Amazon doing the same thing with the theatrical experience where it becomes integrated into their media business model? Maybe, yeah, and perhaps more likely than before.”
While to date, no live-action adaption of a Disney animated classic has spawned a sequel or a spin-off, could Mulan be the goose that lays a golden egg as some reports have suggested.
“First and foremost, we focused on making this as good a movie as we possibly could. We have quite a big responsibility to not just the history in the tradition of Disney storytelling that led up to the animated film, but also to the original Ballad of Mulan that has been popular around for over 1500 years. We put our energy into focusing on how to make this the best version of the movie we could,” Reed explained. “However, I have worked on a lot of big franchises over my career, and there’s always a part of me that’s like, ‘Well, I wish we could tell this story too,’ or, ‘That’s a really interesting thing that only happened in the world that we’ve created to this movie. Can we look at that differently, and can we explore it more?’ I think that ultimately, Mulan’s director, Niki Caro, and the writers have created a world that’s very compelling and very unique. There are always more stories and more characters to explore.”
Mulan is now available through Premier Access on Disney+.
Simon Thompson is a freelance journalist and producer originally from the UK but now living and working in Los Angeles. He has worked for, and with, the biggest brands
Simon Thompson is a freelance journalist and producer originally from the UK but now living and working in Los Angeles. He has worked for, and with, the biggest brands in the industry including Variety, Reuters, E! News, BBC, ITN, Sky News, and more. Simon has covered everything from red carpets to the Oscars as well as having created, scripted, produced and presented a range of primetime entertainment news shows on major networks. Simon is also currently developing his first feature documentary. He can be found on Twitter @ShowbizSimon and you can see more of his work on his website. www.thisissimonthompson.com