Disney's live-action 2020 remake of Mulan skipped theaters to stream on Disney Plus, but Friday it finally became free to watch with a regular subscription -- no $30 extra fee required.
Joan E. SolsmanFormer Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
ExpertiseStreaming video, film, television and music; virtual, augmented and mixed reality; deep fakes and synthetic media; content moderation and misinformation onlineCredentials
Three Folio Eddie award wins: 2018 science & technology writing (Cartoon bunnies are hacking your brain), 2021 analysis (Deepfakes' election threat isn't what you'd think) and 2022 culture article (Apple's CODA Takes You Into an Inner World of Sign)
Disney's unorthodox 2020 release plan for Mulan, like most things during the coronavirus pandemic, was unprecedented. After delaying the big-screen rollout of Mulanthree times since it was originally meant to hit theaters March 27, Disney decided to release the big-budget, live-action remake in September for an extra $30 fee on Disney Plus, its subscription streaming service that already costs $7 a month.
On Friday, the movie became free to watch on Disney Plus without any extra cost as part of a regular subscription.
Mulan's premiere skipping theaters was an unprecedented move, unfathomable when Mulan had its red-carpet premiere in early March. For one, it was a major defection from the rigid rules that usually keep new movies in cinemas exclusively for 75 days or more. Until the pandemic, Disney had been loyal to those theatrical windows, racking up more of the top box-office blockbusters in the last five years than any other studio.
It was also a twist on how Disney had pitched Disney Plus since its launch in November. Disney Plus was marketed as a rival to Netflix, an all-you-can-eat buffet to stream almost everything Disney produces for one monthly subscription fee. But Mulan involved an additional transaction that members had to pay -- and a pricey one at that. It was a new proposition for Disney Plus' subscribers, which now number more than 73 million.
The finer points about Disney's 2020 Mulan release follow.
Will Mulan be included 'free' with a regular Disney Plus subscription? When?
That timeframe is faster than a big-budget Disney movie would arrive on Disney Plus traditionally. In prepandemic times, Disney typically would add its theatrically released movies to Disney Plus roughly six to nine months after their wide releases on the big screen.
At first during the pandemic, Disney Plus added some of its theatrically released movies to the service earlier than planned. Both Frozen 2 and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker arrived on Disney Plus three months earlier than originally scheduled. Then Disney Plus began to release movies that had been originally planned for traditional theatrical runs. The filmed version of Broadway hit Hamilton, for example, debuted on Disney Plus more than a year earlier than it had been slated to hit the big screen.
Mulan was, by far, the biggest-budget Disney movie yet to skip theaters and premiere online.
Can I buy or rent Mulan online via any stores other than Disney Plus?
Initially, Mulan was an online exclusive for Disney Plus. But in October, it went on sale at other online stores, like Amazon Video, Vudu and Fandango Now as a $30 digital download. That meant by moving outside Disney Plus, Mulan's total price essentially got a $7 haircut. When the film was a Disney Plus exclusive, purchasing Mulan required paying for a Disney Plus subscription on top of the extra $30 fee for the movie itself. By purchasing outside Disney Plus when Mulan is available elsewhere, buyers are saving themselves from that membership cost.
But since that initial video-on-demand release, Mulan has come down in price in third-party stores. Most stores now offer it for sale for $20.
When was Mulan's release date?
Mulan became available on Disney Plus on Sept. 4. It became available for sale in other online stores Oct 6. And it joined the regular Disney Plus streaming catalog, without any extra fee, on Friday.
How much does Mulan cost?
Purchasing Mulan outside Disney Plus will cost $20 as a digital download.
On Disney Plus, it was initially $30 plus the cost of having a subscription to the service. Purchasers were able to watch Mulan for as long as they remain active Disney Plus subscribers. Mulan's price varies internationally in local currencies, but the value of the international prices is generally on par with $30.
Starting Friday, Mulan became part of the standard Disney Plus catalog.
Taxes vary by country. In some countries, purchasers will need to pay taxes on top of the Mulan purchase in addition to its advertised price. But in other countries, like those in the euro zone, the price of Mulan already includes taxes.
What countries get Mulan online?
Mulan premiered on Disney Plus in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
Will Disney release other new movies this way, like Marvel's Black Widow?
Possibly, but maybe not.
This unconventional release of Mulan was basically an experiment. Disney CEO Bob Chapek said Mulan's release strategy didn't necessarily set a new standard for how other Disney films will reach audiences during (or after) the pandemic. However, Chapek left the door open to possibly release other movies this way again if Mulan turned out to be a success.
"Mulan is a one-off," Chapek said in early August. "That said, we find it very interesting to be able to ... learn from it and see what happens, not only in terms of the uptake of the number of subscribers that we get on the platform but the actual number of transactions on the Disney Plus platform that we get."
Chapek wouldn't go into detail, but he said that the company's internal research indicated that releasing Mulan this way would not only drum up revenue from $30 purchases but also act as "a fairly large stimulus to sign up for Disney Plus."
But after Mulan's premiere on Disney Plus, Disney pushed back the theatrical release date for Marvel's Black Widow until next year, suggesting that an early streaming release for Black Widow was unlikely. But Disney plans to hold an event Thursday revealing its plans for Disney Plus over the coming year, and Chapek has hinted that Disney may release other films with the Premiere Access model.
It's worth mentioning that the day before Mulan became available in Disney Plus' standard catalog, movie studio Warner Bros. announced that all of its new movies through 2021 -- starting with Wonder Woman 1984 and including Matrix 4 and Dune -- will stream on the company's own HBO Max service at no added cost the same day they're released in theaters. Such dramatic changes to how one Hollywood releases films, even its most epically expensive ones, could influence other studios like Disney to be more aggressive in bringing its own films to streaming during the pandemic.
Will Mulan on Disney Plus be available to download to watch offline?
Yes. Downloads are standard for Disney Plus. You should be able to download it, search for it by name, add it to a watchlist and so on.
Disney Plus has a generous download policy. Pretty much everything on the service is available to download for offline viewing. The service limits the number of mobile or tablet devices that its subscribers can download on, allowing no more than 10 devices, but that's the only constraint.
What video and audio formats will Mulan support on Disney Plus?
Mulan will be available in ultra high definition and high dynamic range imaging, and it'll support Dolby Audio.
Does Mulan have closed-captioning for people who are deaf or hard of hearing? Does it have descriptive audio for people who are blind or have low vision?
Yes -- on Disney Plus at least. Mulan includes accessibility features like closed captions and descriptive audio on Disney's own streaming service. Those accessibility features may vary if you purchase from other stores (though closed-captioning, for one, is generally ubiquitous).
Disney Plus has a strong track record for accessibility. The service supports closed-captioning and descriptive audio, and Disney Plus apps have navigation assistance to help subscribers who have disabilities. In July, the American Council of the Blind gave Disney Plus an achievement award for its descriptive audio.
How did the Disney Plus user interface accommodate a video-on-demand purchase?
To purchase access to Mulan, members went to the Mulan page in Disney Plus to find a button to purchase the movie. If you're using an app on an Apple device or a Google/Android device, the transaction was a standard in-app purchase. If you're on disneyplus.com, it offered the option to charge your card on file, which may have required some to enter the card's three- or four-digit identification number -- or people could choose a different method of payment to purchase the movie.
Once you make your way through the transaction for Mulan, then the title was simply unlocked as part of your wider Disney Plus catalog. You could find it by searching, adding it to your watchlist or browsing in the Disney section of the app.
Watch this: David Katzmaier's tips for upgrading your home entertainment during COVID-19