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Disney’s live-action “Mulan” featuring an all-Asian cast finally premieres Friday, launching on streaming service Disney+ in a bold small-screen gamble that analysts say could change Hollywood forever.
The lavish $200 million film about a legendary female Chinese warrior was due to hit movie theaters in March, but became an early victim of the coronavirus pandemic, with multiple release date delays.
Last month, still uncertain over when or if movie-going families would feel safe to return, Disney rocked the industry, and its own cast, by announcing “Mulan” would skip theaters and premiere in living rooms instead.
Actor Jason Scott Lee, who plays the movie’s main villain, said that the decision for it to go on Disney+ was a big shock I think for a lot of them and that the film was “meant to be seen” on the big screen.
The release of “Mulan” comes on the same weekend that Warner Bros. sci-fi blockbuster “Tenet” hits US theaters, or at least, the roughly 70 percent that have reopened, at reduced capacity.
Unlike its rival studio, which will have to split box office receipts with theaters, Disney will keep 100 percent of profits for “Mulan,” which will cost viewers $30, on top of existing subscriptions.
While Disney has produced plenty of straight-to-video movies, it has never tried this approach with anything close to the budget of “Mulan”, and Tinseltown will be watching nervously.
Easing the decision for Disney was the fact that in China, where Disney+ is not available, many theaters have reopened. The movie launches on big screens there next week.
Based on a 1,500-year-old Chinese ballad about a young girl who takes her ailing father’s place in the imperial army, “Mulan” was already expected to be one of Disney’s biggest films ever in that marketplace.
The theme of women’s empowerment also comes to the fore, both in star Yifei Liu’s physical performance, and the introduction of a mysterious new female foe (Gong Li.)
Initial reviews have been cautiously positive, with many praising the film’s stunning visuals and willingness to depart from the animation, but some criticizing a lack of character depth or humour.