When fans heard that Mushu wouldn’t be a part of the Disney Mulan remake there were cries of “dishonour on you, dishonour on your cow!”.
But why exactly has Disney cut the talking dragon guardian, voiced by Eddie Murphy in the original animation, from the live-action movie?
“I think we can all appreciate that Mushu is irreplaceable,” director Niki Caro said during the footage reveal. “You know, the animated classic stands on its own in that regard.”
Of course, the animation wasn’t the first version of the story – the true story behind Mulan has gone through many different iterations, but most agree it started with a Chinese ballad.
Caro has also confirmed that the new take on the tale would have a different ‘sidekick’ more in line with the ballad.
“In this movie, there is a creature representative–a spiritual representation of the ancestors, and most particularly of Mulan’s relationship with her father. But an update of Mushu? No,” Digital Spy reported.
A few fans also pointed out the Mulan trailer included a phoenix – is this the new Mushu? According to Caro, it’s a firm “no” – the phoenix is more about symbolism.
“So, on the left and right hand of the emperor, there is a dragon. The dragon is representative of the masculine, and the phoenix is representative of the feminine. In a movie, in a story that so much explores gender fluidity, I thought that that was a really nice and appropriate way to go.”
So why was Mushu axed? As with most changes to the Disney live action movie, the answer comes down to a change in tone and a cultural shift when telling the story based on the 6th-century Chinese ballad.
The movie sees Fa Mulan (now Hua Mulan in the remake) disguise herself as a man to take the place of her sick father in the upcoming war against the Huns.
The original animation sees Mulan’s grandmother pray to their ancestors for help. Her prayers are answered as they send the dragon Mushu to wake the stone dragon… who he breaks before swiftly taking his place to prove himself.
Murphy voicing Mushu sent a pretty clear signal of Mushu’s role in the animation – he’s comedic relief, just like Robin Williams’ Genie was in Aladdin and Rowan Atkinson’s Zazu is in The Lion King.
Director Niki Caro and the team behind the movie wanted to move away from this and have spoken about the move to axe Mushu as well as the reasons behind it. And there’s more than one good reason.
1. No Mushu makes it more real
The first movie is a fan favourite, but when it was released issues were raised over the Westernisation of the story. The new movie strips things back and pulls more on the ballad and legend than the original movie, which means no musical numbers and no Mushu. Producer Jason Reed told The Hollywood Reporter:
“We had a lot of conversations about it … [We wanted] to tell this story in a way that is more real, more relatable, where we don’t have the benefit of the joke to hide behind things that might be uncomfortable and we don’t break into song to tell us the subtext.”
2. Mushu was seen as trivialising the Chinese culture
Mushu was never part of the original legend, he was actually created for the 1998 movie. When the trailer was released it mostly confused the Western audience that had only ever seen the little comedic “lizard” version of events.
USC Professor Stanley Ronsen also told The Hollywood Report that the character was seen as a trivialisation of the culture in China. “Mushu was very popular in the US, but the Chinese hated it,” he said. “This kind of miniature dragon trivialised their culture.”
3. Mulan is more war focused
Director Niki Caro has often said she wanted the war element to be the focus. In the very early days of the movie she said Mulan was a “girly martial arts epic”.
Back in February, she reiterated the reimagined idea.
“You have to deliver on the war of it,” she said. “How do you do that under the Disney brand where you can’t show any violence, gratuitous or otherwise? Those sequences, I’m proud of them. They’re really beautiful and epic – but you can still take kids. No blood shed. It’s not Game of Thrones.”
Mulan 2020 changes
Mushu isn’t the only thing missing from the original 1998 movie. The musical numbers are also gone, as we’ve seen with the release of the Mulan soundtrack, with just instrumental versions remaining, and instead of the bulky General we have a new villain, a witch called Xian Lang – that’s also different from the ballad.
There’s no Li Shang, the love interest from the 1991 movie, either, he’s replaced by a new character – a man who bullies Mulan during her training but falls in love with her.
Mulan has a sister in this version too, which is closer to the ballad than the animation.
A few things were kept though. The matchmaker sequence was one of the funnier story set ups in the animation, and it’s been brought back to life in the live action remake.
“The matchmaker sequence from the animation, we were very, very faithful to that idea,” said Caro.
Of course, a big difference this time around is the all Asian cast too.
The changes, of course, aren’t too surprising as Disney’s now long list of live action remakes has shown its commitment to tweaking the original story when it thinks it’s necessary.
RadioTimes.com spoke to Disney producer Don Hahn about this approach recently, with the man behind the original Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King saying the remakes providing “crucial updates”.
You no longer have to wait and see how a movie without Mushu looks, Mulan is now out in the USA and UK on Disney+.
To watch Mulan you need a Disney+ account (£59.99 a year and £5.99 a month) – then you pay £19.99 for premier access to the movie. You can watch it as many times as you want once you have paid. Check out our how to watch Mulan on Disney+ guide for help.