NZ director's film Mulan released on Disney Plus bypassing cinemas

New Zealand director Niki Caro's big-budget movie Mulan has just been released on streaming platform Disney Plus with a lot riding on its shoulders.

Disney bypassed cinemas entirely, and all eyes are on the success or failure of such a bold move.

With a budget just a few pennies shy of NZ$300 million and shot almost entirely here - to call Disney's live-action Mulan a big Hollywood production is a blockbuster-sized understatement.  

From the clay cliffs of Omarama up through the North Island's central plateau and to the Kumeu Film Studios in Auckland, Mulan's epic sweeping story played out over five months of shooting.

The movie had 49 sets built from scratch and employed close to 1600 Kiwi crew.

Zooming in from LA just hours before Mulan debuted on Disney Plus last night, Kiwi filmmaker Niki Caro is ready.

Caro made history with Mulan the moment she signed on,  this film is the most expensive ever directed by a woman, and she surrounded herself with the best of the best to get the job done. 

"The three sort of voices on set, the three people running the set, which is the director, the DP and the First AD were all women and what a team," Caro said. 

"Because we were women I think, we were so well prepared and we're really good at our jobs." 

Being good at their jobs is evident, with Caro's film being hailed as Disney's best of the recent live-action re-boots.

But COVID has, of course, wreaked havoc on the big studio releases. Mulan is skipping the big theatrical release it so richly deserves.

When asked if she was disappointed about releasing the film on Disney Plus when it was made for the big screen Caro said: "Yeah, of course, I'm a filmmaker in the sense I make movies for the big screen. Is this the biggest of them? Arguably one of the biggest movies made, in these times, so that was where it was destined.

"I can't lie, it's tough that it can't be seen that way and you can't experience what I so miss, which is the magic of being with an audience, experiencing the same story." 

But Caro is glad people are able to enjoy the film at home with their families. 

"It's the fact we can bring Mulan to them in the safety of their own homes, in a time where we are all kind of relearning the value of being together.

"You're obviously going to lose the epic big-screen experience but I think you gain in the intimacy of this movie, which is unusual in movies of this genre, that it has so much heart." 

Looking at the imperial gargantuan scale of this production you might think Caro has come a long way from Whangara but make no mistake you can hear Paikea's heart beating strongly through Mulan.

"This movie has so many similarities to Whale Rider." 

A film Caro wrote and directed. 

"It does really feel like I have come full circle and made Whale Rider on steroids and made it in New Zealand where I am the most comfortable and maybe the best I can be, as a director."

Caro can now bask in the glow of those early reviews, while Disney waits to see if their decision to stream, pays off on their investment.