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Mulan SPOILERS are ahead.
It's always an uphill battle to bring back a classic to audiences after they have spent their childhoods living with these characters. Disney has been remaking a number of its animated treasures, most notably from the studio’s Renaissance era, which lasted from 1989 to 1999. After the success of Aladdin and The Lion King last year, Niki Caro’s Mulan is here, but this one is not like the others.
While the other recent remakes have heavily borrowed from their animated predecessors, Mulan seeks to defy the musical in quite a few ways Although if you follow along closely, there are a ton of nods to the 1998 version too. When speaking to Jimmy Wong, the live-action movie’s Ling, over a video call, I asked the actor about one scene from the original in particular: when Mulan’s soldier friends help her save China by masquerading as femme fatales in order to distract Shan Yu’s army. Here’s what Wong said regarding if it was ever going to make its way into the 2020 version:
From the scripts that we got, we never saw any iteration of that. I was watching the original and being like ‘What from this do I miss in the new one? Do I miss Mushu? Yeah, a little bit. Do I miss singing? Yeah of course. When it actually came to that scene, I was thinking about it and it's the most improbable way to sneak in a castle against all these incredibly hardcore major assassin types. I do think it's hilarious though, and I think the way you really bring love and truth to that scene in the future iterations is it's a great Halloween costume for me to have and I hope to be able to throwback to that in some way.
So it was never in the cards for Ling, Yao and Chien Po to storm the castle with Mulan. While revisiting the original, Jimmy Wong told CinemaBlend he felt it was one of the more ridiculous moments in the original that he didn’t particularly miss in the live-action version. However, he did find himself missing Eddie Murphy’s Mushu and memorable songs like “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You” or “Reflection.”
The new movie traded the comedy and musical elements that are tied to Disney’s animation genre for a more dramatic and epic retelling. When looking at 2020’s Mulan this way, it makes sense why elements such as Mushu or the more comedic moments with the other soldiers were left out. Though, Jimmy Wong has thought about pulling together a clever Halloween costume with this moment:
If handled with care, that moment from the 1998 version could have furthered the movie’s exploration of gender expression too. But when the movie hits the third act, Mulan is largely on her own taking on Jason Scott Lee’s Bori Khan, with the other soldiers elsewhere fighting off Khan's soldiers.
As far as Mushu goes, Niki Caro said the dragon was not part of the film because the filmmakers felt it was important for Mulan to cultivate relationships with her fellow soldiers and commit to “the realism of her journey.” And as you might imagine, having characters bust out into song wouldn’t exactly commit to the film’s realist vision either.