Disney's live-action film remakes aren't slowing down any time soon. The massive success of The Lion King in 2019 (which brought in $543 million, second only to Avengers: Endgame) proves audiences are hungry for updated versions of Disney classics. But Mulan will be less like Beauty and the Beast or Lion King, which were very faithful remakes, sticking closely to the original material. The live-action Mulan trailer suggests the film will have a different feel, and be missing fan favorite Mushu.
The original cartoon film Mulan, released in 1998, was based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan. The story centered around Fa Mulan, who is the daughter of an aged warrior Fa Zhou, who has no sons. She takes her father's place during the conscription to counter an invasion of the Huns, impersonating a man.
The new film follows this general outline. But in the cartoon, Mulan's ancestors decide they need a guardian to watch over her. They order their Great Stone Dragon to awaken and go with her. Unfortunately, the dragon sent to wake up the Great Stone Dragon's spirit is a clumsy little disgraced former guardian named Mushu. He accidentally destroys it.
To hide his mistake, Mushu winds up going with Mulan instead, vowing to protect her.
Mushu is a familiar stock character in Disney films. Voiced by Eddie Murphy, he was the sidekick animal who's running commentary functions as comic relief. Think Olaf in Frozen, or Dory in Finding Nemo.
But watching the trailer, a comic relief character (or even a silent sidekick, like Mulan's grandmother's lucky cricket) doesn't seem to fit the bill. This is a movie styled like a Chinese period martial arts film, and funny talking animals just aren't part of that milieu.
That's not to say Mulan won't have protection. The trailer shows her watched over by a phoenix, which her father calls "a guardian of the emperor." It's got the same mythical element as a dragon, but none of the wisecracks.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. A far more serious take on Mulan fits right into the desire by audiences to see more diverse heroes on screen. And a martial arts film where a young woman is the heroine, facing down a witch, checks both the Disney fairytale box while still embracing the self-rescuing princess. Fans will be sorry not to have Mushu. But losing one fan favorite for a different kind of remake might be the best choice in this situation.
Mulan arrives in theaters on March 27, 2020.