Before the animator ever picks up his pencil ...
Oops. Sorry. I'm dating myself here. I forgot that Disney Feature Animation no longer does things the traditional way anymore. Let me start again, okay?
Before the CG artist starts clacking away at his keyboard, there is ... the beat board.
"What -- pray tell -- is a beat board?," you ask. Well, this is the loose story assembly that's made available to all of the film's production team. That sparse outline that then allows the folks who are actually working on this movie to know what the movie's about.
Mind you, animation veterans already know that the shape and tone of this film will probably change radically over the course of production. But -- that said -- they still look toward the beat board as sort of a movie's "North Star." You know, that thing gives you a sense of direction. The document that initially establishes the style & the tone of the movie that will follow three or four years further on down the line.
Don't get yet what I'm trying to describe here? Here, let me provide a visual aid. Below, you'll find a transcript of the April 1995 version of the beat board for the WDFA production which was then known as "The Legend of Mulan."
As you can see -- as you read through all three acts of this film -- that "Mulan" 's story changed considerably over the next three years that this animated feature was actually in production. When this film was finally released to theaters in June of 1998, whole sections of this outline had been cut and/or significantly reworked.
But -- that said -- even at this early, early phase in "Mulan" 's production, you can still see that the bare bones were there for a pretty amazing moyion picture. Here -- take a lot for yourself.
THE LEGEND OF MULAN
Revised Beat Outline
April 4, 1995
1. Song: Prologue (Introduction to China and Mulan)
Voice-over narration about the creation of China, the Emperor, the Great Wall and the dangerous Huns. Intercut free-spirited Mulan heading home and parents' bethrothal negotiations. Stark contrast.
1.5. FA HOUSE
Matchmaking completed, in-laws ask to meet Mulan.
3.3 Reprise. Prologue Song, or New Song: (Mulan is transformed into a China Doll.)
3.3 FA HOUSE
Mulan returns home late. Mom and Grandma hurriedly make Mulan into perfect China doll.
3.4. FA HOUSE
Mulan presented to proud father. Mulan is curious. "What is my husband like?" She's told that her desires don't matter.
3.5 FA HOUSE
Mulan presented to in-laws who give her the once over.
3.7 FA HOUSE / GARDEN
Her spirit chafing under constraints, Mulan sneaks a look at Shang. Awkward, accidental meeting. They both play roles.
3.9 Song: "Reflection" (Mulan's anthemic song in which she describes what she wants.)
Mulan's moment of reflection. "When will my reflection mask who I am inside."
4. FA HOUSE
Bao Gung arrives with conscription notice.
5. FA HOUSE
Dad knocks down lantern. Mulan is angry about father's fate. Her role and her desire collide when she's told: "You can't help. You're a woman."
6. Reprise: "Want" song (Mulan decides to take her father's place.)
6. FA HOUSE
Mulan decides to go to war in father's place. Dilemma clear. To save her father's life, she risks losing his love.
6.5 FA HOUSE
Mulan's parents are disraught when they discover their daughter has left. Mom prays to the temple gods. Dad disowns Mulan.
7. FA HOUSE / FAMILY TEMPLE
Introduction of Mushu and his pretense
7.5 Song: (Mushu sells himself to Mulan.)
Mushu introduces himself to Mulan. His confidant bluster earns him a place in her saddle bag as she heads out to the army camp.
8. ARMY CAMP
Mulan arrives in camp. She's flsutered that Bao Gung's in charge. She tries to fit in based on Mushu's advice and provokes a fight with fellow recruit -- Shang!
8.1 ARMY CAMP
Mulan and Shang fight and Bao Gung pairs up the reluctant duo.
8.3 ARMY CAMP
Awkward tent scene with Mulan and Shang.
8.6 HUN CAMP
Attila sees through the hawk's eyes.
8.7 ARMY CAMP
Bao Gung meets the troops.
9. "I'll Make a Man Out of You" (Mulan trains to be a soldier.)
Training sequence. Mulan struggles to fit new mold. Her tenacity wins Shang's respect. She ends sequence as warrior.
The troops discuss the legend of Atilla and his hawk.
9.7 Love Song Moment (Shang sings of his love for his betrothed.)
Mulan discovers Shang's vulnerable side. She pretends to be Shang's betrothed in an "As You Like It" moment. They're interrupted.
9.8 BURNED OUT VILLAGE
Witness Huns' destruction.
Mulan and the troops battle the Huns.
Following Mushu's advice, Mulan defies Bao Gung, accidentally defeats the Huns amd saves Shang from an avalanche. Shang vows allegiance. She wants to tell Shang the truth. Mulan is a hero.
Shang sees Mulan's injuries and tries to help. He discovers she is his betrothed. The medic discloses her true identity as troops arrive. She is cast out.
16. SACRED CAVE
Mulan sees Atilla emerge from the snow -- he is alive.
17. ARMY CAMP
Mulan humbles herslf as woman to Bao Gung and Shang. Bao Gung ignores her. Orders Shang to throw her out. Mulan confronts Shang. She reminds him of vow. He refuses to help.
17.5 (LOCATION TBD)
Mushu fesses up that he's a fraud. Mulan's big realization that she needs to be who she truly is. They rally each other. Mulan asserts herself: "I'll do it by myself as myself."
18. Song: "Illusion" (Celebration at the palace. Nothing is as it appears)
18. IMPERIAL PALACE
Mulan outside palace. Shang and Gang of 3 show up in women's clothes. As they enter celebration, Mulan teaches men how to be women.
19. IMPERIAL CITY
Mulan, Shang and the Gang enter the city in search of the assassins.
20. IMPERIAL CITY
The Huns attempt to assassinate the Emperor. Mulan defeats Atilla. Bao Gung's redemption.
21. IMPERIAL PALACE
Mulan is revered. The Emperor gives her Atilla's sword. She is eager to reconcile with family. She releases Shang from bethrothal.
22. Reprise: TBD (Mulan is triumphant and gets what she wants. The village honors her.)
22. MULAN'S VILLAGE / FA HOUSE
Amidst huge fanfare, Mulan rides home. She presents her father with the sword of Atilla. Father forgives and honors her. Shang arrives. He loves her for who she is. They ride off into the sunset -- on separate horses. Mushu along for the ride.
Now I think you'll agree that this is a pretty fascinating look at the early phase of "Mulan" 's production. Where the film's directors and creative clearly have an idea what sort of movie they wanted to make. But -- as of April of 1995 -- they still hadn't refined their ideas. Trimmed away the narrative fat, so to speak.
Me personally, I'm fascinated at some of the ideas that they were trying out at this point. Atilla the Hun was supposed to be the film's villain? Not to mention Mulan's father actually disowning his daughter for daring to run off to join the Army. And what's the deal with the Hun leader being able to see through the eyes of his hawk?
As for the odd numbering of the scenes & sequences listed in this outline ... That's simple enough to explain: When you see Act One jump from the prologue straight to scene 1.5, which is followed immediately by Scene 3.3, that's because the filmmakers -- in an effort to speed up their story -- discarded the first half of Scene 1, cut all of Scene 2 and trimmed the first part of Scene 3. When you're working in animation, you always want your film to move quickly. You always want your narrative to have clarity.
Now I guess I should let all you "Mulan" fans know that -- according to my sources within Buena Vista Home Entertainment -- that storyboards of this early version of the film's Act I (I.E. Shang & Mulan bethrothal scenes) will actually be included in the October 26th release of the special edition 2-disc DVD of this movie. I also hear that Mushu's song sequence will be a bonus feature on one of the discs. So -- if you'd really like to get a better understanding of what this early version of "Mulan" was really supposed to be like -- I suggest that you make plans NOW to pick up that deluxe DVD once October rolls around.
Anyway ... There's your peek at "The Legend of Mulan" 's beat board. Now do you feel like you have a better understanding of this early, early phase in the development of a Disney animated feature?