It’s been 22 years since Mulan first got down to business and defeated those pesky – and very sun-deprived – Huns (spoiler there, but hey if you haven’t seen where have you been?).
The original Mulan was released in 1998, bringing with it Mushu, voiced by Eddie Murphy, and the female lead we all needed.
Mulan is the eighth Disney princess and the second not based on a fairy tale character, which definitely puts her among our favourites. She’s actually based on a Chinese folk tale about Hua Mulan. While there were some crucial changes made by Disney the new remake looks to be more in line with the tale.
Mulan sees our hero disguising herself up as a male soldier and taking her father’s place in the Chinese army when he’s called upon to fight the Huns.
To get you ready for the Mulan 2020 remake we’ve rounded up some must-know facts about the 1998 animation.
1. She’s not actually a princess
Let’s get this one out of the way. We would be the first to add our hero to any princess list (diversity and all) but she’s not actually a princess. Mulan joins the army and then was honoured by the Emperor so only becomes a ‘sort of princess’, but she has no title. We prefer her as a strong, independent woman anyway.
2. Mulan wasn’t independent at first
In the first ideas for Mulan back in the 80s when it was a straight-to-video animated short called China Doll it was a different thing entirely. It was about an oppressed woman in China who fell in love with a British soldier who sweeps her off her feet and out of China. No animator wanted to be attached to it though, and consultant Robert San Souci put forward the new idea of looking at Hua Mulan. Phew. It still took awhile to get Mulan to the character we know.
“There was another storyline that had her running off to war to escape a bad situation at home, either bad parents or a forced marriage. That didn’t work,” co-director Barry Cook told Los Angeles Daily News. She was driven by romance for a long time and “it ruined everything”.
3. Mulan has the highest kill count of any character (including villains)
Look, she’s no murderer but she does kind of wipe out a whole army. She kills the Huns at the mountain pass that’s 2,000 Huns in one avalanche. At least it wasn’t a bloody end.
4. It took five years for Mulan to be completed
It took 700 animators, artists and technicians to finish the film.
5. Mulan is the first Disney animated film to openly deal with war
See the death count. This may be why…
6. Easter eggs are in there – take a closer look at the temple stones
When Mulan sings Reflection in the shrine, the names of the animators who worked on the film are written in ancient Chinese on the temple stones. It’s not the first, or last, time that this has happened of course.
7. The directors cameo
Tony Bancroft and Cook appear as cartoons in the film – they’re the firework attendants that Mushu scares off when he’s trying to help Mulan at the palace.
8. Mulan is based on the Chinese legend of warrior Hua Mulan
Hua Mulan was a female warrior who was famously described in the poem The Ballad of Mulan. The poem was originally part of a collection of lyrics and songs that no longer exists, so tracing the origin is a little difficult.
Hua Mulan, like the Disney character, disguised herself as a man to spare her father. In the story she returns to her family. The ballad crops up throughout history in songs, plays and more poetry with slight variations. It’s thought Mulan isn’t a true story but is more inspired by different tales.
9. The original legend is more than 1500 years old
The earliest story is the Ballad of Mulan, from the 6th century. There are obviously different variations – in one of the darker ones, Legends from Sui and Tang, Mulan is rewarded for bravery in battle despite being found out. As she returns with her riches to her family, she finds out her dad has died. She gets an order from the Emperor to become his concubine – so she kills herself. Cheerful huh?
10. In the poem no one found out she was a girl until the end of the war
The war was 12 years! Did no one enter the tent? Did she not wash?
11. Fa Zhou had a song
Mulan had a younger brother. The poem says: “When Little Brother hears Elder Sister is coming [home], he whets the knife, quick, quick, to [kill] the pig and sheep.”
Sounds like a great bedtime read no? The poem suggests he was too young to enlist which is why he wasn’t forced to join the army.
12. Fa Ping is a pun
It translates as huā píng which has the same pronunciation as 花瓶 ‘flowerpot’. Mulan means ‘flower wood-orchid’ so it looks like she’s poking fun of herself.
花瓶 is also slang in Chinese for female eye candy. That’s true, honest.
13. Chi Fu’s name means literally “to bully”
In Mandarin Chinese that’s 欺负(qī fù).
14. The horse’s name is Khan – the title of the Emperor in the poem
It’s a nice nod to the leader and a link back to the poem.
15. Christina Aguilera recorded a pop song for it
It was written for the soundtrack. Lea Salonga sang the track for the movie but Christina released a pop version – it became her debut single. She was 17 at the time. She’s actually recorded a new song for the remake.
The movie sort of helped Christina Aguilera launch her career. She had just signed a deal to record a demo with RCA Records and her music producer got the call from Disney – they needed a singer who could hit a high E above middle C. She recorded Whitney Houston’s I Want to Run to You and sent it off. The rest, as they say, is history.
Aguilera calls that very note the “note that changed my life”.
16. Mulan is two voices
While Aguilera did record the pop song, Salonga recorded Mulan’s singing for the movie. The Tony award-winning star from Miss Saigon was cast as the only voice for Mulan but then they clocked her voice wasn’t quite what they needed for the speaking parts. The speaking role for that was Ming-Na Wen who caught their eye in the 1993 The Joy Luck Club.
Fun fact: It’s not the first time Salonga has had this happen. She san for Linda Larkin’s Jasmine in Aladdin in 1992.
17. Donny Osmond has the same thing
General Li Shang was cast as BD Wong, another Tony-award winner. To get a different singing voice the team went back to Hercules (1997) and heard Donny Osmond. He lost out that time around as his voice was too deep. Osmond said yes and sang I’ll Make a Man Out of You while still starring in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.
18. Jackie Chan voiced Li Shang in China
And there was another voice. Jackie Chan dubbed Li Shang in Mandarin and Cantonese. He also recorded the song in both languages.
19. Mulan is award-winning
Mulan was the second-highest grossing family film of the year. It won several Annie Awards including Best Animated Feature while the musical score was also praised. It was nominated for the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Original Music Score.
20. Disney opened Florida studio
Disney opened a satellite animation studio in 1989 in the backyard of the MGM/Disney studios in Florida. It was supposed to support Burbank, California and create the animation for attractions. The studio actually created three of its own feature length films, one was Mulan, one was Lilo & Stitch in 2002 and Brother Bear followed in 2003.
17. The cast was packed full of stars
We have our favourites of course. Who doesn’t? George Takei was the spirit of Mulan’s eldest ancestor and Eddie Murphy starred as Mushu. Donny Osmond also sang on the track.
21. Mushu was supposed to have a song
Eddie Murphy is pretty great as Mushu but we missed out on his singing. There was a song called Keep ‘Em Guessing where Mushu showed Mulan how to be a man. Murphy didn’t want to sing though so it was cut.
There were three versions apparently thinking it was the song Murphy didn’t like – but he just didn’t want to sing.
22. She had her skin lightened supposedly
There was controversy originally over her redesign as people argued her skin was lightened. The same happened with Pocahontas and Jasmine FYI. A lot of later redesigns actually show a greater difference in tone.
23. Mulan touches her hair as Ming-Na Wen does
Animators often look to the cast for some characteristics, one in Mulan was the hair touching. Ming-Na Wen touches her hair quite a bit so that’s what she does in the film.
She tweeted: “Very true, I still touch my hair a lot.”
24. She appears in Deadpool
Yep…in Issue 2 of Marvel’s DeadpoolKillustrated series. Yes, it counts.