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A music-less ‘Mulan’? It’s far from written in stone

For “Mulan” fans stressed out over rumors that next year’s live-action update won’t be a musical, director Niki Caro has a message: Don’t set off the fireworks just yet.

Caro, the “Whale Rider” and “Zookeeper’s Wife” filmmaker who will be directing the new Disney production, says the outrage is premature -- and quite possibly unjustified.

“I don’t know where that’s come from,” Caro told The Times on Tuesday of the controversy, “We’ve never talked about songs, and no decision has been made.”

Caro was responding to what became an Internet dynamite factory after Moviefone published an interview with Caro that included the quote: “From what I understand, [there are] no songs right now, much to the horror of my children.”

Social media subsequently exploded: “Mulan didn’t save FREAKIN CHINA for this!!!” tweeted one of many devotees. News stories soon followed. “‘Mulan’ fans raging as Disney ditches songs for remake,” blared the Mirror.

With tracks like “Reflection,” “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” and “A Girl Worth Fighting For,” the “Mulan” soundtrack was a key part of the 1998 animated release’s success, earning an Oscar nomination in the short-lived category of original musical or comedy score . Many fans have assumed the original music would be a part of the updated Han Dynasty tale, due November 2018, just as it was for current smash “Beauty and the Beast.”

Caro’s Moviefone interview seemed to indicate that a decision had been made. But on Tuesday she emphasized that in the earlier interview she was merely channeling what she’d heard, and that that was all tentative. “I haven’t even started working on it yet,” she said of the film.

Even if Disney had been leaning in a song-less direction, the studio could reverse course, especially after the massive musical-driven success of “Beauty and the Beast.” Last summer’s “The Jungle Book” was initially conceived with a lot less music before the studio rethought that position.

A Disney spokesperson declined to comment for this story. It was unclear on Tuesday how settled executives really were—a story from the same Moviefone writer, in Vulture, offered a qualified “‘Mulan’ is not expected to prominently feature songs, though that could change,” and the vibe at the studio, according to people on the lot, is that they were leaving the possibility open.

But the intense reaction, which Caro described as “getting trolled,” proves how high the stakes are for fans. There’s a tremendous appetite for — and in turn an intense pressure that comes with — live-action Disney movies, especially after “Beauty” satisfied by hewing so closely to the original. All reboots tend to attract scrutiny, but Disney reboots have more reason to than most. Unlike certain comic book properties, which often include decades of character invention and reinvention, there’s only one original “Mulan,” and it is, in many minds, unassailable.

Increasing the intensity is that those minds belong to the generation most likely to be active online. If you were 9 when the first film was in theaters, you’re now 28 and highly social-media-ified now. Which means any perceived deviation from an original will spark an incredibly charged reaction..

For Caro, she was trying to keep a stiff upper lip and even find some reason for optimism amid all the backlash.

“It is exciting,” she said, “that people are this passionate.”

 

 

 

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steve.zeitchik@latimes.com

Twitter: @ZeitchikLAT

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