When news broke on social media that Disney’s Mulan was going to be remade into a live action film, I was absolutely beside myself with excitement. In that moment I had completely reverted to optimistic adolescent Sam, in my head I was back in the original family home I lived in back in Malaysia and I was running up and down the stairs with my hands flailing above my head.
Even the most well-intentioned people in my life associate my love for Mulan with the fact that I am a) female b) of Asian descent. It might be true to an extent, Mulan’s plights and pitfalls in her relationships with her family are so entirely relatable to me (it’s sobering to see that the dynamics within Asian families haven’t changed since 4th century ancient China). But you don’t need to be female or Asian to struggle with meeting family expectations and challenging gender roles while still trying to find your voice and identity. And you certainly don’t need to be either to appreciate a morally good character. What probably resonated with me more than her background or the colour of her skin was her awkward and misunderstood disposition, strong family values and natural tendency to want to do what is right, not just what is easy.
@ the mulan remake without songs pic.twitter.com/905YVbQE6j
— mandy ✨ (@anglashamyqueen) March 18, 2017
However as more speculation and movie-related news poured in, it became more commonplace to see headlines dictating how outraged fans are about variations made away from the canon such as the lack of it being a musical, the elimination of Shang from the plot and actress choices. What is it about film and television remakes of things we grew up with that simultaneously intrigue us and trigger an automatic up in arms response? You need only turn to a galaxy far, far away to see how divided the fan base is on the possibility of a remake of all the Star Wars prequels.
I was similarly excited when Digimon Adventure Tri, a sequel to the original Digimon Adventure and Digimon Adventure 02, was announced in celebration of the 15th anniversary of the Digimon franchise. Unfortunately, it didn’t stick for me and I fell out of watching it very quickly. My friend Jordan has persisted but still found that he didn’t have a vested interest in the characters or the general plotline. It’s hard to discern whether that sense of wonder that’s missing is due to our departure from childhood innocence or the fact that sequels generally aren’t as good as the original.
We’ve all lost track of the number of adaptations there have been of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet but the one that comes to mind the most for me is Shakespeare in Love because it was my related text for one of my Extension English modules. Instead of rehashing arguably the most famous love story of all time, it was able to introduce a fresher perspective, an imagined one of how Shakespeare wrote and completed Romeo and Juliet. Fiction of a fiction, how’s that for meta? Instead of speaking directly to what we know of Romeo and Juliet, it simply uses it as a vessel to communicate similar themes of forbidden and eternal love from a wider story angle. Aside from being an excellent film and having the persuasiveness of Dame Judy Dench, sidestepping and taking a narrative less travelled, avoids direct comparisons to any predecessors and even the play itself.
I grew up with a pile of back issues of Archie comics, the majority of them hand me downs from relatives, which I coveted more than the newer ones my parents bought for me. I often spent my weekends negotiating with my parents about finished homework versus a RM15.90 single digest Archie comic from the Indian-run sundry shop. Riverdale is based on the characters and relationships that exist in the Archie comics universe. What initially started as a closet interest in it has seen me go all out in my public proclamations of love for the series.
The best thing about Riverdale is how much it doesn’t try to emulate the canon. It keeps the characters but with a more realistic spin on it rather than the caricatures they were in the comics. Archie is still the shining example of a good person but faces real world moral dilemmas, Veronica is haughty as ever but this the show juxtaposes by showcasing her fierce loyalty to her friends more than the comics did. The series was also developed in line with how the original audience has presumably grown. Certain characters have been reimagined to people of colour roles, a very nice touch considering how blatantly white the comics were. Riverdale also places Kevin in a fairly prominent role, Kevin being the newly introduced (in the last seven years, the comics have been running since 1938) and first openly gay character in the comics.
Above and beyond there being a certain je ne sais quoi about keeping things as they were originally, what we’re ultimately most protective of is our memories and of our childhood. In watching a sequel or an adaptation, we want to relive those memories but that’s where the expectation is. It has to be precise and able to invoke the exact same sentiment which is a really high and often unrealistically unattainable bar. I guess that is always the risk you take when you’re attempting to tap into a pre-existing fandom. The value of books, shows and movies aren’t perceived in isolation, we remember who we were with when we saw Moulin Rouge or the smell of dinner wafting while the television is blaring a rerun of The Lion King. The attachment we form to media we consume and we love is, like any other relationship to a person, contextual.