Mulan: 6 Nods To Disney's Animated Classic To Look Out For

Yifei Liu as Mulan
(Image credit: (Disney))

Minor spoilers are ahead for the live-action remake of Mulan**.**

Since Niki Caro’s Mulan has been in development, the movie has been drawing a clear line between the 1998 animated hit and musical and its new badass and action-packed PG-13 version. But now that we’ve seen it, Disney’s 2020 version references the original we know and love a lot more than we might have expected. No Mushu does not have a cameo, but another key figure from Mulan before this does.

Yes, there’s a number of changes the live-action version does with the material and overall Mulan is Disney's most standalone remake yet. There's still plenty of nods to the classic version we spotted, you can follow along below:

Mulan's father with chickens in 1998 version

(Image credit: (Disney))

Mulan Chasing After Chickens

2020’s Mulan places a closer focus on Mulan’s relationship with her father in this version, this time with the Hua patriarch narrating the film and being more accepting of his daughters. In the opening of the live-action version a young Mulan can be seen chasing chickens, which is later referenced again when her parents are discussing her. Mulan’s mother is worried her daughter’s love for chasing chickens will keep her from doing her duty as a woman (at the time) and finding a husband. The chickens are certainly a symbol for Mulan’s free spirit that can also be found in the beginning of the 1998 version. While her father is praying that her daughter gets matched, chickens circle him and he gets frustrated with her.

Mulan Reflection original vs 2020 version

(Image credit: (Disney))

How ‘Reflection’ Is Subtly Referenced

On the surface there’s a lot of changes to the scene where Mulan takes her father’s place and leaves home to enlist for the war in place of her injured father. She does not sing “Reflection” or cut her hair as the Disney princess iconically does in the animated movie. But there are a few things to look out for during the moment in the 2020 version. There’s a shot in the new Mulan where Yifei Liu points her sword into the glass case and her reflection can briefly be seen. According to Mulan’s cinematographer Mandy Walker to Insider, the shot was not planned, Yifei improvised it. Also, Mulan leaves the same flower clip in place of her father’s scroll.

Cricket in original 1998 and 2020

(Image credit: (Disney))

There’s Another Character Named Cricket

Disney is well known for its adorable Disney sidekicks, with Mushu the Dragon and Cri-Kee the Cricket being highlights of the original animated version. In order for this version to be a grounded, more realistic version of the film Mulan does not carry around a cute cricket or talk to Eddie Murphy’s guardian character. But the Imperial Army still has a good luck charm among them. Jun Yu plays a soldier who introduces himself as “Cricket” when Mulan is in line with the other soldiers when she first reaches camp. It's a blatant nod to the original, but Yu’s version of the character doesn’t necessarily replace the role of Cri-Kee or have a significant place in the film itself.

Shan Yu, Hayabusa, Bori Khan and Xianniang Mulan villains

(Image credit: (Disney))

Shan Yu’s Falcon By A Different Name

One major change between Disney’s two versions of Mulan is the villains were changed. In the 1998 version, Mulan and the Imperial Army goes up against the leader of the Hun Army, Shan Yu, who has a falcon on his shoulder named Hayabusa. In the 2020 version, Jason Scott Lee’s Bori Khan is the main villain, with Gong Li’s shape-shifting witch Xianniang working with him. Although they are different villains, Xianniang does turn into a falcon during the film, reminiscent of Hayabusa, and has taloned hands to emulate the bird. Xianniang is kind of the villain on Bori Khan’s shoulder, doing his bidding as they attack the Imperial Army, but she’s also fully formed on her own that brings depth to the film’s messages.

Mulan soldiers in 2020 version

(Image credit: (Disney))

The Soldiers Reference Lines From Their Famous Songs

Another central part about Disney’s Mulan is the soldiers she meets along the way and bonds with while in the Imperial Army. As mentioned, the 2020 version is not a musical, thus losing some of the especially memorable moments between Mulan and her soldier friends in “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You” and “A Girl Worth Fighting For.” Generally, the 2020 version is less focused on the other soldiers but when they do pop up, look out for them referencing the songs. There is a scene when the men are discussing their “types” of women, where a number of characters specifically say lyrics from “A Girl Worth Fighting For” for example.

Ming-Na Wen in 2020 mulan

(Image credit: (Disney))

The Original Voice Of Mulan Makes A Cameo

Mulan also nods to the 1998 version in a scene at the end in the Emperor’s castle where Hua Mulan is being honored for saving China. Before Yifei Liu appears, Ming-Na Wen, dressed in traditional Chinese garb stands in front of her and then moves to the side. Wen was the speaking voice for Mulan in the animated version, before also becoming famous on another Disney property for playing Melinda May in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The scene perfectly symbolizes Wen passing the torch down to Liu in the short but beautiful cameo sequence.

Yifei Liu as Mulan in 2020 remake

(Image credit: (Disney))

Bonus: A Reference From The Ballad Of Mulan

2020’s Mulan doesn’t only reference the ‘90s version, it also made an added effort to make the movie more authentically Chinese. One way it does this is by references from the story both Disney versions derive from: The Ballad of Mulan. The folk legend dates back to the fifth to sixth century CE. During the introduction to adult Mulan, she can be seen on her horse with a pair of rabbits. She comes in and talks about how she thinks one is a male and a female. Its a reference to an excerpt from the ancient poem. Take a look:

The he-hare's feet go hop and skip,The she-hare's eyes are muddled and fuddled.Two hares running side by side close to the ground,How can they tell if I am he or she?

The lines refer to one of Mulan’s messages of equality between genders. When rabbits run together, you cannot tell their gender, just that they are capable of keeping up with the other.

Did you catch these nods to Mulan? The movie is currently available for Premier Access on Disney+ until November and will join the Disney+ library in December. Stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for more on Mulan and other Disney franchises.

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.