When the trailer for Disney’s live-action version of Mulan dropped on Sunday, July 7, the cool fight scenes and gorgeous cinematography sparked the intrigue of fans everywhere. It was especially intriguing to Asians and Asian Americans, who were excited to see their culture represented onscreen in such a huge studio film. However, some fans of Disney’s 1998 animated movie were less pleased when they saw that Mushu isn’t in the Mulan trailer. In fact, it looks like he won’t be in the new film at all. But, while it’s sad to see the childhood favorite be taken out of the story, Mushu’s absence is actually a move in the right direction.
Mushu, the anthropomorphic dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy in the animated film, is beloved for his comic timing and devotion to protecting Mulan when she poses as a man to serve in the army. He’s also one of the most memorable characters in the film thanks to his hilarious one-liners (“Dishonor on your cow!”) and celebrity voice. So his absence from the new Mulan trailer was immediately noticed by fans, who quickly took to Twitter to express their concern.
Clearly, fans are worried that, without Mushu, the live-action Mulan just won’t be the same as the animated film they remember from their childhood. But what they might not realize is, that’s exactly the point. This version of Mulan isn’t supposed to be the same as Disney’s earlier version. 2020’s Mulan is not meant to be a live-action remake of the 1998 Mulan in the same way that the new Lion King is a remake of the 1994 Disney classic. Instead, it’s intended to be a more faithful to the original legend of Hua Mulan, which dates back as far as 386 A.D.
The key to appreciating this film is recognizing what Disney’s intentions are. Mulan will undoubtedly feature many references to the 1998 film like the iconic hair comb seen in the trailer but its focus clearly won’t be on giving fans a shot-by-shot remake of the animated version. Instead, this will be more of a a standalone story of one girl’s incredible strength, and her fight to protect her country and the people she loves against all odds.
The original source, “The Ballad of Mulan,” was written in the sixth century. And while the heart of the story is the same, Disney took a lot of liberties when adapting it in the ’90s, like altering Mulan’s parents’ reaction to her service and the duration of her time in the army. But Disney arguably took the most creative license when it came to Mushu. It turns out, everyone’s dream dragon sidekick doesn’t exist anywhere in the original ballad, nor does he appear in the seventeenth century “Sui Tang Romance” story that repopularized Hua Mulan over a thousand years later, as reported by SyFy. But guess what? Even without Mushu’s protection and wisecracks, Mulan still saves the day and wins the war.
Earlier versions of the story emphasize Mulan’s skill for martial arts and archery, both of which can be seen in the 2020 teaser. The original Hua Mulan also possessed an impressive level of confidence and determination before her adventures in the army, unlike her 1998 version, where she needed some encouragement to believe in herself. This Hua Mulan doesn’t need a talking dragon guide to protect her; she can protect herself.
Can Mulan be successful without Mushu? Hua Mulan was a well-known figure in Chinese culture long before Disney animated her. Her story has literally survived since its inception in 386 A.D. and been passed down through the generations. It’s spawned multiple film and stage adaptations throughout the 20th century. Mulan literally has a crater on Venus named after her. History tells us that Mulan can not only be successful, but iconic without Mushu.
At the end of the day, the most important part of Mulans story is her heart and her bravery. Mulan was never about Mushu, and it can definitely be told without him in fact, it has been told without him for centuries. And instead of bemoaning the lack of Mushu, it’s time for fans to focus on what Mulan is really about: giving this Asian female heroine a place to be the badass she’s always been.
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