A version of this story about the music in “Mulan” first appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
Harry Gregson-Williams called it “a happy accident.” While the prolific composer was writing the score for Disney’s live-action version of “Mulan,” a mutual friend had suggested he get together with songwriter and producer Jamie Hartman — and as soon as Hartman heard the melody that Gregson-Williams was writing for the title character, he said, “There’s a bloody song here.”
Pictured above: Harry Gregson-Williams, Jamie Hartman
The two men had never worked together before and didn’t have an assignment to write a “Mulan” song — but between the inspiration Hartman found in Gregson-Williams’ melody and the “Loyal Brave True” inscription on the sword that the character Mulan steals from her father in the film, they immediately found themselves turning that phrase into a song.
“We basically jumped up and down and thought, ‘This is really exciting,'” Gregson-Williams said. (It didn’t hurt that Hartman was already planning on getting together that afternoon with two frequent songwriting collaborators, Rosi Golan and Billy Crabtree, whom he simply diverted to the impromptu “Mulan” session.)
They quickly made a spare demo with bass, piano and voice, and left it up to Gregson-Williams to choose the moment he’d present it to Disney and director Niki Caro. When he did, Caro loved the song but wanted to give it more energy, and Disney’s president of music, Mitchell Leib, suggested that they bring in Christina Aguilera, whose career had been launched when she recorded a song for the soundtrack to Disney’s animated 1998 “Mulan.” “From the demo to the final song, there was a massive leap in the intensity of the song, mainly due to the fact that Christina was going to sing it,” Gregson-Williams said.
Hartman said he tried to incorporate Chinese influences in the song, which had also been part of Gregson-Williams’ job when he was writing the score. “The challenge,” Gregson-Williams said, “was to find a way of delivering powerful, emotional music to a Hollywood blockbuster while also sprinkling the sonic spectrum with Chinese influences.”
For his part, the composer said he wasn’t thinking of writing a song that could have a life outside the movie when he worked on “Loyal Brave True.” “I was very focused on what was needed for the film,” he said. “If the song could get some radio play or have a life outside the film, that would be fine, but I just wanted to do the best we could for Niki and her film.”
“I agree, one hundred percent,” Hartman said. “I’m used to making records and writing songs for the radio, and this was my first-ever opportunity to write something with a composer for a film, let alone a huge Disney film. But when I walked into that room, I was instantly focused on, ‘How the hell am I going to get something really special to impress this guy?’ And this one just came together.
“There’s an old English expression, ‘There’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip,’ and there were opportunities for this not to happen as beautifully as it did.”