Legal Issues to Blame for Keeping Mushu Out of Live-Action ‘Mulan’ Remake

Matthew Loffhagen
(Photo: Disney)

There’s a nasty rumor going around that Disney’s “Mulan” remake won’t feature Mushu.

In fact, the movie won’t feature much of anything familiar. Gone are Li Shang, all the iconic songs, and even the original movie’s plot.

Instead, we’re getting magic, a new love interest, and a new set of songs.

Why? Because of Jeffrey Katzenberg. Because of “Shrek”.

Please take this all with an enormous grain of salt. I admit that basing an argument like this on Twitter speculation makes everything incredibly shaky. But, at the same time, at least this time it’s possible to follow rumors to their source.

A Twitter user going by the name of @nerdyasians has been “investigating” (aka speculating wildly) that the reason why Li Shang isn’t in the upcoming film is because Katzenberg holds the rights to the character.

The story goes like this: Jeffrey Katzenberg was a big player in the Disney Rennaissance. He somehow brought the studio from the era of “The Black Cauldron” and “The Great Mouse Detective” into the period when “Beauty and the Beast”, “Aladdin”, and “The Lion King” were wowing audiences.

Then, came a dispute. Katzenberg had a falling out with Disney over various issues, not the least of which was a frustration over royalties. Katzenberg argued that he deserved a bigger slice of the pie, and Disney refused.

This led Katzenberg to split away and form DreamWorks SKG (those letters stand for Spielberg, Katzenberg, and Geffen, in case you’d ever wondered). Katzenberg then made “Shrek”, a movie that takes a big steaming dump on the Disney legacy.

Meanwhile, Disney was finishing up “Mulan”, and facing a big lawsuit from Katzenberg. It’s posited by @nerdyasians that in order to protect the rights to more financially lucrative movies like “Beauty and the Beast”, Disney may have surrendered control of much of the original content for “Mulan”.

This isn’t a big deal when Mushu turns up in “Kingdom Hearts”, but it causes a lot of grief when Disney is trying to kick off a brand new “Mulan” live-action remake.

There’s a certain amount of logic to @nerdyasians’ theory. “Mulan” is one of the only cartoons from its era that didn’t get a funky animated TV series. “Hercules” has a show that ran for years and even involved a team-up with Aladdin, so why is there no love for the land of China?

If this is the case, the big question is, why would Disney even want to make a “Mulan” live-action film?

The whole point of the live-action reboot series has been to make quick, easy blockbusters that trade off nostalgia. “Beauty and the Beast” succeeds precisely because people remember the old songs. All the new material in the film is dismissed outright by audiences who just want to see Hermione Granger singing about how much The Beast has changed.

If this theory about the “Mulan” movie is true, then Disney must already be expecting that the film will prove unpopular. The name brand is enough to get butts into seats, but once audiences are in the theaters, they’ll quickly grow frustrated by a movie that doesn’t feature “Dark Side of the Moon”.

Unless Disney plans to license the Pink Floyd song instead. Now that would be worth watching!

I suspect that Disney’s plan here is to forego Mushu, Li Shang, and all the other stuff that makes “Mulan” great, in favor of a quick buck.

Profit At All Costs

The studio knows that this film won’t be a crowd pleaser. They’re aware that people will hate the final product.

They also don’t care. The live-action “Beauty and the Beast” has its fair share of haters, but since it topped $1 billion at the box office, nobody at Disney is all that upset.

This film is going to upset most people, but by the time we realize this, Disney will already have all our money.

What are we going to do? Go and watch a 20th Century Fox movie instead?! Pah.

I’m not sure if I entirely believe the theory about why “Mulan” might not feature Mushu, but I do see the argument.

In the meantime, a reimagined “Mulan” might not be terrible.

This is an opportunity for Disney to start with a clean slate. There’s an opportunity for some real, genuinely progressive messaging within this story.

Making “Mulan” Better

Mulan could be portrayed as being legitimately genderfluid or transgender. The character’s live-action journey could be a first for Disney, as the studio actually creates a hero that is more than simply a cisgender princess archetype thrust into a regrettable circumstance.

I’d really love to see Disney try to make this movie speak to a downtrodden and often overlooked audience that deserves better representation.

Something tells me that this won’t happen, but I can still be hopeful. Certainly if Disney doesn’t address this issue, the film will receive a lot of hate from more progressive viewers who want to see Mulan’s story told correctly.

In the original legend of Mulan, the heroic warrior serves in the army for decades before eventually returning home, and once more assumed a female identity. At this time, Mulan’s comrades come to visit, and discover that their friend is now living as a woman.

In the Disney animation, at this moment, everyone abandons Mulan. By contrast, in the legend, the soldiers all instantly show Mulan respect and treat her exactly the same, without freaking out or getting upset over the deception.

Give us that on the big screen, Disney. Puncture stereotypes of military machismo, and show how people should respond to learning that a friend’s gender identity is more complicated than it first appears.

This movie wouldn’t feature subtle subtext like the classic “Reflection” song. Instead, it could be a bold declaration of genderfluid acceptance that the world so desperately needs right now.