Disney is turning to a familiar face to direct its live-action MULAN movie, as the studio has hired its McFarland, USA director Niki Caro for the plum gig, the Tracking Board has confirmed.
At the same time, Disney has brought on Hong Kong-based producer Bill Kong (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) to executive produce Mulan, which is striving for cultural authenticity by having all of its primary characters played by Chinese actors.
Disney is being extra careful to get Mulan right, engaging Chinese cultural consultants and leaning on its own China-based team to treat the material with the respect it deserves. The studio is also scouring mainland China to find the title character and the rest of the ensemble.
Chris Bender, Jason Reed and Jake Weiner are producing the film, which is based on a spec script written by Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin, though the last draft of the script is credited to Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver.
An October 2016 article from the Hollywood Reporter claimed that both Disney and Sony (which wound up hiring TV veteran Alex Graves) were intent on hiring Asian filmmakers to helm their rival Mulan movies, but in the end, neither studio went that route — though not for lack of trying.
While neither plan came to fruition, Caro is a thoughtful choice for the job. The New Zealand native received Hollywood’s attention thanks to her debut film, the Maori family drama Whale Rider, and recently immersed herself in central California’s Mexican-American community to prepare for McFarland, USA, one of the more underrated films of 2015.
Though McFarland, USA grossed only $45 million worldwide, Disney remained high on Caro, who was also in the mix to direct Captain Marvel for the studio. The Mulan assignment takes her out of contention for that Marvel movie, which remains without a director.
Original Wonder Woman director Michelle MacLaren and her eventual replacement, Patty Jenkins, were both reportedly considered for Mulan, but Caro won the gig. She will be the second woman to direct a big-budget tentpole for Disney, following in the footsteps of Ava DuVernay, who is in the midst of production on A Wrinkle in Time.
Disney will release Mulan on Nov. 2, 2018, and hopes to repeat the success of its live-action reboots Maleficent, Cinderella, and no doubt Beauty and the Beast, which arrives next month. The studio’s animated Mulan movie grossed $304 million worldwide back in 1998.
Jeff Sneider | Editor in Chief