Every Disney live-action update comes with a litany of questions. Why does that lion look like that? How do I get my cheekbones to pop like Angelina Jolie’s? Wait, there are two Jon Favreaus? The arrival of the new Mulan trailer is no exception. Ahead of its release, some people were expecting the film to be a musical, like the 1998 U.S. animated version. Others were expecting a realistic adaptation of the original Chinese folk ballad that dates back to the sixth century. Everyone prayed it would be nothing like the leaked script from 2016. We’re still months out from the movie’s March 2020 release, so we don’t know exactly what’s what yet. But in the spirit of curiosity, let’s try to wrap our heads around some answers to the specific Mulan q’s out there — that way we can focus on other issues, like what an Awkwafina seagull will be like.
Where is Mushu?
It doesn’t seem like Mushu, the mayhem-loving dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy in 1998’s Mulan, will be making an appearance in the live-action version. Which, fine, we’ll get enough humans interacting with CGI sidekicks in The Little Mermaid. Instead, the Mulan trailer suggests Disney is taking a slightly more realistic, wuxia approach to the famous warrior’s story, one that might not require the comedic relief of a talking animal. To back that theory up, neither Mushu nor any of the guardians is currently listed as a character on IMDb. So unless Disney is going to surprise us all with a last-minute casting announcement, we can kiss that dream goodbye. Cri-Kee, however, who is credited simply as “Cricket” in the live-action movie, does have a voice actor: Jun Yu.
It’s worth noting that the character of Mushu, named after a dish that first appeared on Chinese menus in the U.S. in the 1960s, is but one of many aspects of the ’98 version that nod to its specifically Chinese-American reframing of Mulan’s story. The ’98 movie also renamed Hua Mulan, the warrior in the original ballad, Fa Mulan — a Cantonese rendering more closely related to the “Fa Mu Lan” of Chinese-American Maxine Hong Kingston’s memoir The Woman Warrior. The Anglicized name prompted some to view the animated Mulan as Western appropriation.
Where is Li Shang?
The internet’s bisexual icon, Captain Li Shang, definitely won’t be in the new movie. (I know, and Pride Month just ended.) While Shang was a perfectly fine “prince” to sweep-kick Mulan off her feet, his character was also not a part of the original “Ballad of Mulan.” Instead, live-action Mulan has a new man: Chen Honghui, another military recruit, played by Yoson An.
Will Mulan be a musical?
Yes, we all love “Reflection.” Yes, we all cry while singing it in the shower. But no, it won’t be sung in the new Mulan. Director Niki Caro told Moviefone in 2017 that as of that moment, there were no songs in the movie. “It’s a big, girly martial arts epic,” she explained. “It will be extremely muscular and thrilling and entertaining and moving.” It just won’t move your feet.
The songs do seem to be making a comeback as instrumentals, though. If you listen closely to the beginning of the teaser, you’ll hear “Reflection” plinking away.
Why does everyone speak with a different accent?
Tossing aside the fact that this is a story set in Mandarin-dominant northern China that features only English-speaking characters, the various accents in the Mulan trailer have become the subject of moderate criticism. For example, Mulan’s mother Hua Li is played by Rosalind Chao, a Chinese-American actress from California. In the film, she speaks with an immigrant Asian-American accent that sounds quite a bit different from Chinese actress Pei-Pei Cheng’s (The Matchmaker) or naturalized American citizen Liu Yifei’s (Mulan), who spent most of her life in China. The various accents could bring attention to the vastness of the Chinese diaspora, but the stylistic choice has not arrived without a few eyebrow-raises.
Is that … a sister?
In the animated film, Mulan is an only child with a dog named Little Brother. Just like Mushu, Little Brother apparently got sent to the dog house. In the live-action version, Xana Tang will play Mulan’s sister, Hua Xiu. Presumably, she will take on the role Grandmother played in the animated film, which does not exist in the original ballad. You can catch the first glimpse of Hua Xiu in the beginning of the trailer.
Why is her hair long?
When animated Mulan leaves home and slices off her hair with one flick of a sword, she’s leaving behind the life she once led! She’s mentally preparing to die in war to save her father’s life! It makes little to no physical sense, but it’s still somehow more than iconic. In the teaser we clearly see Mulan post-Ping with her long hair flowing in the wind, curled from being in a bun for so long. Why is her hair long? Perhaps as a flawed attempt to keep the “girly” in “girly, martial arts epic?” Or probably because it’s nearly impossible to get a human person to succeed in slicing thick hair off in one go, even with movie magic.