Fans of the 1998 animated Mulan, let me start with a disclaimer. I love Mushu. He was a cheeky, hilarious, and IRREPLACEABLE character. Eddie Murphy’s performance knocked it out of the park. His famous words “dishonor on you, dishonor on your cow” to this day is one of the most popular memes.
This op-ed article breaks down the reasons why I, an Asian American Millennial fan of the story of Mulan, believe the dragon sidekick character of Mushu did not have a place in the Disney live-action Mulan. The film premiered on Disney+ on Sept. 4, and Disney announced that it would release Mulan to third-party video on demand streaming services on Oct. 6.
“We want to see Mushu!”
Even before Mulan premiered, a lot of Disney fans did not like that Mushu would not exist in the live-action. While I understand the loss of Mushu because he played a huge role in the animated film (and our childhoods), it’s important to recognize that Mushu does not exist in the Northern Chinese story “The Ballad of Mulan,” from which the live-action is based.
According to HistoryExtra.com, there is no evidence to prove Mulan is a historical figure. If Mulan herself did not exist, how can Mushu exist in her story? Simple: Disney added Mushu in the animated film adaptation. But with the live-action, the writers and director chose a different route.
Reasons why Mushu wasn’t in live-action Mulan:
He isn’t popular in China
The Hollywood Reporter interviewed USC Chinese politics and society professor Stanley Rosen back in February. Rosen stated that the decision to exclude Mushu made sense from a Chinese perspective. He said to The Hollywood Reporter, “Mushu was very popular in the U.S., but the Chinese hated it. This kind of miniature dragon trivialized their culture.”
Storytellers wanted to prioritize the Mulan’s story
The focus of the remake was on Mulan and her story. Adding Mushu to the mix would’ve lessened the impact of seeing the legend of Hua Mulan.
“It’s a woman’s story that has been told for centuries but never by women,” screenwriter Amanda Silver said in The Hollywood Reporter article. “And we felt like it was really time to tell that story.”
Reasons why Mushu doesn’t belong in live-action Mulan:
Mushu is an American creation
He is memorable but he’s purely an American creation (characteristically speaking, Mushu isn’t Chinese). In Chinese culture, the Chinese dragon is a sign of respect, strength, and power. So the Chinese audiences did not take his representation well.
According to Esquire.com, a Chinese moviegoer, Lisa Niu, at the time of the animated film’s release commented to The Baltimore Sun that “This is not a Chinese dragon. I can tell the people who designed the dragon are from America.”
The live-action Mulan has serious overtones
The serious overtones in the film had no room for Mushu’s sassy kind of humor. While Mushu was one of the main reasons we laughed our asses off back in the late ‘90s, his presence would not have been appropriate for a story centered on war and political strife.
This reason also explains the lack of musical songs in the live action as well. According to CinemaBlend.com, director Niki Caro stated, “We don’t tend to break into song when we go to war.”
“Mushu is irreplaceable”
While Disney could have brought back Eddie Murphy, it would not have worked for the story and tones Caro and her team were aiming for. Additionally, if Eddie Murphy returned, he would have voiced a different kind of Mushu, one that was not as humorous as the animated Mushu. Rather than try to recreate a beloved character from the past, I respect Caro and her team’s decision to omit Mushu because, as Caro stated to CinemaBlend.com, “I think we can all appreciate that Mushu is irreplaceable.”
People are still upset
My writer Jamie and I reviewed the live-action Mulan. We both agreed that the film itself packed in a lot of characters and storytelling that there would not have been room for Mushu anyways. My goal of this op-ed was to shed light on a handful of reasons why Mushu wasn’t in and didn’t belong.
Aside from the reasons explored above, also remember that remakes in general aren’t necessarily meant to recreate the original work of art. Remakes allow the creator to explore different directions and put a spin of their own to the work. While Niki Caro’s live-action remake was far from perfect, I respected her and her team’s decision to omit Mushu. And I hope by the end of the op-ed, I was able to convince at least one person to understand why Mulan doesn’t belong in Disney’s live-action Mulan.
Further education about live-action Mulan
I am not Chinese American. My roots come from Taiwan. But during my research about Mulan in general, I came across Xiran Jay Zhao’s article that dissects the film and explains everything culturally wrong with it. I highly recommend for Disney fans eager to learn more to give that article a read.
What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @geekgalsco.
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Featured image credit: Disney Studios