The move means that the month of July, which in recent years has seen mega-blockbusters from “The Lion King” to “The Dark Knight,” “Transformers” to many “Harry Potter” films, will not have a major new movie for the first time in the modern era. On Thursday, Warner Bros. moved “Tenet,” its Christopher Nolan film with high commercial hopes, from July to Aug. 12.
The postponement dashes the hopes of theater-owners, studios and many consumers of a cinematic revival this summer after a nearly four-month shutdown due to the covid-19 pandemic.
The release of a major family film at a time when many children are about to go back to school — or have just done so — is an extreme rarity in modern Hollywood. But Disney is gambling that the movie could play well to parents and children looking for something to do after a strange, pandemic-infused summer, and that the movie can dominate a Labor Day weekend two weeks later when many normal recreational options could be limited.
The “Mulan” move offers resolution — or an attempt at one — at a problem that began when one of Disney’s great cinematic hopes for 2020 was caught by the first wave of the novel coronavirus across the globe.
Originally scheduled for release March 27, Niki Caro’s live-action update on the 1998 Disney animated smash about a young woman on a hero’s journey featuring Chinese-American star Liu Yifei was rescheduled to July 24 when the virus began spreading. Though an 11th-hour postponement — the film had already held its premiere in Hollywood — the move was a no-brainer given the hundreds of millions of dollars it’s expected to take in not only in the U.S. but in China, where the film is set and from where much of its cast comes.
But where to put it has proved challenging. While late August is hardly a common time for a Hollywood release, a push to the fall or early 2021 would have been difficult given Disney’s other movies, which have also been rescheduled due to the pandemic. “Black Widow,” scheduled for May, is now in November,” “The Eternals” went from November to February 2021 and “Jungle Cruise,” set for this July, will now come out next July, leaving little room on the calendar.
Disney also has “Soul,” the new animated movie from Pixar chief creative officer and “Up” director Pete Doctor set for November, and it’s unlikely to want to crowd that date with another family-friendly title.
“Mulan” carries many hopes for a Disney that has been starved for revenue with theme parks closed and ESPN unable to show live sports. The studio has enjoyed massive success with its live-action remakes of 1990’s animated films; “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin” each grossed more than $1 billion globally upon their release in the past few years.
But the multiple schedule shifts, and the fact that many consumers remain reluctant to attend theaters, will pose a challenge even if the film can stay on track for August.
Whether theaters will even be open across the country also remains a question. As of Friday several states that had lifted restrictions on indoor recreation venues were scrambling to reinstate them as cases continued to rise in many parts of the country.
Florida and Texas were among those announcing record numbers of new cases at the end of the week. Florida reached 8,942 new infections Friday, close to double the previous record set just two days earlier. The governors of both states closed bars as a result and Texas reduced capacity limits on restaurants.
Disney must also contend with restrictions in China, where movie theaters remain closed.
“Mulan” could also face a publicity challenge in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests. In 2019, Liu posted support for police on a Chinese social-media site during the Hong Kong protests, saying she supports law-enforcement and that what the protesters were doing was a “shame.” The statement caused many to accuse her of supporting police brutality and prompted calls to boycott the film.
If the pandemic forces Disney to move the film’s release date again, it would be hard pressed to find another place on the calendar without bumping other films in the process. A move to video on-demand, as some fans have called for, is unlikely. Disney pushed “Artemis Fowl,” its adaptation of the action-fantasy literary hit from a scheduled May theatrical release to video on-demand. But such a move is unlikely for “Mulan,” which cost an estimated $200 million to make, while the revenue model for digital rentals of big-budget films remains uncertain.