Mulan premiered on Disney+ on Friday, Sept. 4, and fans are noticing a major difference from the 1998 animated classic. A few beloved characters from the animated classic are missing from the live-action remake, most notably Mulan's dragon companion Mushu. If you're wondering why Mushu isn't in Disney+'s Mulan, the director revealed the reason behind the cut.
Mulan's director, Niki Caro, spoke with USA Today on the topic in an interview on Wednesday, Sept. 2. It turns out, although Mushu is a fan-favorite character of the original, Caro left him out of the story to place more emphasis on Mulan's human relationships. "We were very inspired by what Mushu brought to the animation, which was the humor and the levity, and the challenge was to bring that to Mulan’s real relationships with her fellow soldiers," said Caro.
Caro continued, "Mushu, beloved as that character is in the animation, was Mulan’s confidante," she said. "Part of bringing it into the live-action is to commit to the realism of her journey, and she had to make those relationships with her fellow soldiers. So there was certainly a lot to work within that department."
In 1998's Mulan, Mushu, voiced by Eddie Murphy, was her guardian during her journey as a soldier in the Chinese Army, sent to guide her in her journey by her family's ancestors.
In a January footage reveal, Caro also told Digitial Spy and other publications that Mushu would not be replaced. "I think we can all appreciate that Mushu is irreplaceable," said Caro. "You know, the animated classic stands on its own in that regard. In this movie, there is a creature representative – a spiritual representation of the ancestors, and most particularly of Mulan's relationship with her father." The director finished addressing the issue by saying, "But an update of Mushu? No."
Although Caro said nothing of the issue, it's also possible that Mushu was left out for a more intentional reason. In a February 26 feature from The Hollywood Reporter, Stanley Rosen, a University of Southern California professor who specializes in Chinese politics and culture, cited Mushu as problematic in China. "Mushu was very popular in the U.S., but the Chinese hated it," he said. "This kind of miniature dragon trivialized their culture."
Fans speculated that Mushu would still appear as the phoenix seen in the trailer, but Caro denied those theories in her January presentation. "So, on the left and right hand of the emperor is a dragon," she said, per Digitial Spy. "The dragon is representative of the masculine, and the phoenix is representative of the feminine." Caro also remarked that the masculine and feminine symbolism was a nod to the film's fluidity. "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," she said.
You can stream Mulan on Disney+ with Premier Access, which was first announced in August, and is the first time Disney+ is using the feature. To stream, you need to pay $29.99 for Mulan on top of Disney+'s monthly subscription price. However, Disney+ will likely release Mulan to all subscribers for no additional price in a few months.