Just pay the moola to watch Mulan

Raquel Rossi, Staff Writer

Change often creates controversy, and the debut of the live action remake of Mulan with a premium fee was no different. People were outraged, asking “Why does a huge corporation like Disney need more of our money?” or “How can they have the nerve to release Hamilton for free and then release Mulan with a fee just a few months later?” 

Well, I’m here to tell you that Disney was completely justified in charging this fee, especially when the film industry is trying to look at new options to premiere movies. In these trying times where unexpected indefinite shutdowns close theatres, production companies are scrambling to find a source of income. Disney didn’t decide that movies would require a fee immediately after COVID-19 closed theaters. Hamilton, a multi-million dollar cultural phenomenon, was released for free on Disney+ for anyone with a subscription on July 3. The early release allowed a massive audience to watch the play from the comfort of their own home.

Disney decided to pre-release Hamilton, originally set to be released in theatres at the end of 2021, but that’s not feasible for every type of production. As a play, sets and costumes, along with actors’ paychecks, were all accounted for within the budget of how Hamilton could fare on its own on Broadway. The recording only cost as much as camera crews and equipment would cost, making the Hamilton streaming release even an option for Disney.

To that, the critics may say “well, that makes sense for Hamilton, but what about Netflix originals? How come they don’t have an extra fee?” The thing is, platforms like Disney+ have a different financial structure than Netflix. Netflix factors in the fact that the movie won’t rely on box-office earnings when creating the production budget, so they end up gaining a profit from the movies they produce solely through viewership and membership. However, Disney was not prepared for this style of market. The structure of their budget relies on box-office successes with an added bonus of streaming after the movie has had its time in theaters. 

But how does Mulan play into all of this? Mulan was a movie designed to be a spruced up retelling of a familiar tale, so a lot of attention was brought to costuming, location, Computer-Generated Imagery or CGI, editing, and many other things required in producing a big blockbuster hit. The film cost 200 million dollars to produce. In comparison, the 2015 Disney remake of Cinderella only cost 100 million dollars. The movies are insanely expensive, but generally reap big box office rewards as they play off of movies that large audiences already know and love. 

And what happens when the box office closes? That’s the question no one even thought to ask until COVID-related shutdowns in March. To account for this, Disney had to get creative on how to bring in revenue to at least break even after producing Mulan. Could they just count on streaming revenue? Well, Disney+ is different from Amazon Prime Video, for example, in that they don’t play any ads before or after films. This is great for the viewer, but it decreases the possible revenue for the company. The movie couldn’t exactly make any budget cuts because the entire film was already prepared, with an original release date set for March 9. Disney tried to wait to release Mulan when theatres reopened, but after months with no changes, Disney started to get a bit antsy. 

The company ultimately decided to risk releasing the movie on Disney+ so it could be accessible, but charged a $29.99 fee for viewers; essentially, buying a digital copy of the movie. The premium fee is to purchase rights to the movie to watch unlimited times, not to watch it once like in a movie theater. If you think of the fee as a purchase instead of a movie stub, the price is actually fair and becomes more worth it the more you watch the movie.

The additional cost caused outrage among viewers, claiming the fee was too expensive for a multi-million dollar company like Disney to charge. However, these customers might not realize that we aren’t the only ones suffering with this pandemic. The entertainment industry is on thin ice because it is labeled as non-essential and is intrinsically tied to close contact, not only between actors, but also between production crews and spectators. Disney had to halt all releases on already made films, meaning they needed to find ways to pay for the films they created. With the fee in place, as of today, Mulan made 43.8 million dollars. This does not even reach a fourth of the production value and did not come close to the earnings of other remakes like Cinderella, grossing 542 million dollars at the box office.

So next time someone complains about a viewing fee for a movie or show, ask them to think about what they’re really paying for. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that needs to be paid for in order for us to enjoy fantastically filmed warriors fighting in picturesque landscapes.