Let Your Reflection Show You These 17 Secrets About Mulan

Mulan became the 36th animated movie released by Disney and launched Christina Aguilera's career when it debuted in theaters 25 years ago

By Tierney Bricker Jun 19, 2023 7:00 AMTags
Watch: Christina Aguilera & Yifei Liu: How "Mulan" Changed Our Lives

Loyal, brave and true, we still love Mulan and Mushu.

Released 25 years ago, Mulan is still one of Disney's most beloved and boldest animated films, thanks to its fierce and free-spirited title character voiced by Ming-Na Wen. The movie, based on ancient Chinese legend of the female warrior Hua Mulan, was an instant hit upon its release on June 19, 1998, going on to make over $300 million and earning an Oscar nomination. The movie also launched Christina Aguilera's career as her rendition of the ballad "Reflection" served as her debut single, landing the then-17-year-old singer a record deal. 

In 2018, Mulan became one of Disney's many animated classics to be adapted into a live-action movie, although one iconic character was cut during the transition. But did you know one of the original movie's most well-known songs was almost removed from the final version? Or that a different actress was initially slated to voice Mulan?

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Those are just a few of the behind-the-scenes facts we're revealing about the movie in honor of its 25th anniversary. So, let these 17 secrets about Mulan make a man out of you...

1. The 36th animated film released by Disney, Mulan was the first to be produced primarily in Florida at the Disney animation studio at Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney's Hollywood Studios). 

2. More than 700 animators worked for five years on Mulan, which is based on a 2,000 year old Chinese legend. Development on the film began in 1994, when production sent a group of artistic supervisors to China for three weeks for inspiration and to learn more about the culture. 

3. The first draft of Mulan was a romantic comedy, with a misfit Mulan running away after her father arranges for her to be engaged to Li Shang. However, when writer Chris Sanders was brought in to work on the screenplay, he urged the creative team to remain more faithful to the original legend. 

4. Tia Carrere was initially considered to voice the title character. Then Lea Salonga, who provided the singing voice of Princess Jasmine in Aladdin, was cast to provide both Mulan's speaking and singing voices. 

5. While Salonga still performed Mulan's songs, Ming-Na Wen was later brought in to speak the role after filmmakers didn't find Salonga's attempts to deepen her voice as Ping to be convincing. Wen was cast after producers heard her narration in The Joy Luck Club.

"When we heard Ming-Na doing that voice-over, we knew we had our Mulan," producer Pam Coats told The Deseret News in 1998. "She has a very likable and lovely voice, and those are the qualities we were looking for."

6. BD Wong was cast as Captain Li Shang, though Donny Osmond provided the character's singing voice in "I'll Make a Man Out of You." Osmond had previously been considered to voice the titular character in Hercules.

7. Jackie Chan voiced Li Shang in the Chinese version of the movie.

8. Hoping to find a comedy star to voice Mulan's fast-talking dragon sidekick Mushu similar to Aladdin casting Robin Williams as Genie, the filmmakers considered Joe Pesci, Steve Martin and Sinbad for the role before Eddie Murphy signed on. 

9. However, Murphy almost passed on the movie when he was initially asked to do his recordings for the voice of Mushu in an actual studio. "We can record it in my basement," Murphy recalled telling Disney in a interview with The Chicago Sun-Times. Ultimately, Murphy recorded his part at his home in Englewood, New Jersey.

10. Mushu had his own song in the initial script, but the tune was scrapped after Murphy was cast, according to lyricist David Zippel.

"We wrote three different versions of it," Zippel told Entertainment Weekly. "But that's because we didn't understand at that point that it wasn't that [Eddie Murphy] wasn't liking our songs, he just didn't want to sing in the film."

11. "I'll Make a Man Out of You" is one of the movie's breakout songs, yet composer Matthew Wilder admitted to EW that he "never thought" it would become as popular as it did.

"It was a training sequence, and whether you're talking Private Benjamin or GI Jane, [imagine] taking that and putting it into an Asian motif," Wilder explained of the upbeat tune. "We were trying to marry the idea of that hyper-masculinity as if it were a Marine moment, but instead of it being Marines, it was the Chinese army."

12. Wilder and Zippel revealed to EW that they had to fight "tooth and nail" to keep "Reflection" in the final version of the movie after filmmakers considered cutting the ballad altogether.

13. The end-credits song "True to Your Heart" was initially written for Hanson to perform. But when a deal with the boy band fell through, Stevie Wonder ultimately sang the track.

14. Directors Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook make cameos as the firework lighting men at the end of the film.

15. Mulan is the only Disney Princess who isn't actually royalty. She wasn't born a royal, nor did she marry a prince.

16. After a decade spent in development, a live-action adaptation directed by Niki Caro and starring Yifei Liu in the title role was released in September 2020. 

17. One character who didn't make the transition from animation to live-action was Mushu.

"Mushu, beloved as that character is in the animation, was Mulan's confidante and part of bringing it into live action is to commit to the realism of her journey and she had to make those relationships with her fellow soldiers," Caro explained to USA Today. "So, there was certainly a lot to work with in that department."

Mulan is streaming on Disney+.

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