11 Memorable Facts About Disney’s Mulan

Mulan faces off against a menacing Hun during the climax of Disney's Mulan (1998).
Mulan faces off against a menacing Hun during the climax of Disney's Mulan (1998).
Walt Disney Pictures

In 1998, Disney broke from its own mold by introducing Mulan, an independent, resilient heroine who isn’t fond of frilly dresses and doesn’t want (or need) to be saved. With a riveting story about risking it all for your family and a rousing soundtrack featuring Lea Salonga and Donny Osmond, Mulan quickly became a modern animated classic. In honor of Disney's live-action remake, revisit the wonder and magic of Mulan with these inspiring facts.

1. Mulan is based on the story of Hua Mulan, a legendary female warrior in China.

A statue of Hua Mulan in Singapore's Jurong Gardens.Anandajoti Bhikkhu, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Like the Disney character, Hua Mulan is said to have disguised herself as a man in order to spare her father from going to war. The earliest known record of her story was “The Ballad of Mulan,” a Chinese folk song from the 6th century that details Mulan’s 12 years of heroic service in the Chinese army, after which she dutifully returns to her family. According to All That’s Interesting, the epic tale continued to crop up in Chinese songs, plays, poetry, and other works for centuries, especially during periods of unrest when the public needed extra hope and inspiration. However, since various versions of the story have been around for more than 1500 years—and it began as an oral tradition, rather than a written one—nobody knows for sure if Hua Mulan was indeed a real person.

2. Disney’s Mulan wasn’t always quite so independent.

In its earliest stages in the late 1980s, Mulan was going to be a straight-to-video animated short called China Doll, about an oppressed young woman in China who finds happiness after a British soldier sweeps her off her feet (and out of China). None of Disney’s top animators wanted to work on it, and children’s book author and Disney consultant Robert San Souci eventually floated the idea of basing the story on Hua Mulan’s. That garnered enough enthusiasm to get the project out of the incubator, but it would take a fair bit of brainstorming for filmmakers to develop Mulan as a plucky, independent heroine.

“There was another storyline that had her running off to war to escape a bad situation at home, either bad parents or a forced marriage. That didn't work,” co-director Barry Cook told the Los Angeles Daily News in 1998. “Then she was driven by a romance she had with the captain of the soldiers. And that just ruined everything.”

3. Mulan helped launch Christina Aguilera’s singing career.

In late 1997, soon after 16-year-old Christina Aguilera had signed a deal to record a demo with RCA Records, her new music producer got a call from a friend at Disney looking for a young singer who could belt a certain hard-to-hit note: a high E above middle C. He asked Aguilera, who recorded herself singing the same note in Whitney Houston’s “I Want to Run to You” and sent the tape off to Disney. It landed her the gig of singing a pop version of Mulan’s “Reflection” that Disney could (and did) release as a single, which was so successful that Aguilera ended up including it on her self-titled debut album in 1999. Later, Aguilera would call that high E “the note that changed my life.”

4. Mulan was the first feature-length film created by Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida.

In 1989, Disney opened a satellite animation studio right in the backyard of Disney/MGM Studios in Orlando, Florida. Though primarily established to support Disney’s flagship studio in Burbank, California, and create animation for Disney World attractions, Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida also produced three of its own feature-length films—Mulan in 1998, followed by Lilo & Stitch in 2002 and Brother Bear in 2003. According to co-director Tony Bancroft, the distance from Burbank helped the Orlando animators find their own rhythm while making Mulan.

“Early on in the project, they weren't paying much attention to us," Bancroft told the Los Angeles Daily News. “They were concentrating on Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, so we had a little more leeway to experiment. There wasn't quite the same amount of pressure."

Bancroft and Cook even made cartoon cameos in the film—they’re the fireworks attendants that Mushu scares off while Mulan is racing to save the emperor.

5. Mulan’s family temple features the names of many artists and animators who worked on the film.

When Mushu strolls through the Fa family temple, banging his gong and shouting at the ancestors to “rise and shine,” the tombstones glow with sparkling Chinese calligraphy, which is actually a list of people who helped bring the movie to life.

6. Mulan was voiced by two actors—one for speaking, and one for singing.

Lea Salonga, the Tony Award-winning star of Miss Saigon, was originally cast as the sole voice of Mulan, but filmmakers realized while recording that the deep voice she used while Mulan was impersonating a man wasn’t quite what they were looking for. The speaking role went to Ming-Na Wen, who had piqued the interest of Mulan’s filmmakers with her narration at the beginning of 1993’s The Joy Luck Club. "When we heard Ming-Na doing that voice-over, we knew we had our Mulan. She has a very likable and lovely voice," producer Pam Coats told Deseret News. It wasn’t the first time Salonga tag-teamed a Disney princess role with another actor; she also provided the singing voice for Linda Larkin’s Jasmine in Aladdin (1992).

7. BD Wong shared the role of General Li Shang with Donny Osmond.

For General Li Shang, Disney cast the speaking role first: BD Wong, a 1988 Tony Award winner who has most recently gained critical acclaim for his guest appearances as Whiterose in Mr. Robot. To find a nice, strong singing voice for Shang, filmmakers unearthed old audition tapes from 1997’s Hercules. They came across one by Donny Osmond—who had lost out on that role because his voice was a little too deep—and decided he’d be a perfect match. Osmond, thrilled at the opportunity, accepted the role immediately and recorded the now-classic tune “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” on a day off from playing Joseph in a touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

8. Jackie Chan voiced Li Shang for the Chinese version of Mulan.

Hong Kong actor, martial artist, and all-around legend Jackie Chan not only dubbed Li Shang for the Mandarin and Cantonese versions of Mulan, he recorded “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” in both languages, too—and even filmed a music video.

9. Mushu was supposed to get his own song in Mulan.

Eddie Murphy’s memorable performance as Mulan’s pint-sized dragon sidekick, Mushu, almost included a song called “Keep ’Em Guessing,” where Mushu taught Mulan how to masquerade as a man. Unfortunately, Murphy wasn’t interested in showing off his singing talents.

“We wrote three different versions of it,” lyricist David 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.”

10. Mulan has a habit of touching her hair because Ming-Na Wen does.

Ming-Na Wen touching her hair at a press event in 2018.David Livingston/Getty Images

Disney animators often pull characteristics from the voice actors when designing their characters, and Ming-Na Wen was no exception: After noticing Wen had a habit of touching her hair, the artists decided that Mulan would, too. “Very true,” she confirmed on Twitter. “I still touch my hair a lot.”

11. Mattel’s Barbie doll version of Mulan was originally much bustier.

Mattel’s first pass at a Mulan doll was basically Mulan’s face on Barbie’s large-chested, tiny-waisted body, which didn’t sit well with producers. They didn’t succeed in convincing the company to create an entirely new figure for Mulan, but they did settle on a compromise: Instead of using Barbie as the model for the doll, Mattel used Midge, the more evenly-proportioned pal of Barbie that Mattel had rolled out in 1963 to prove Barbie dolls didn’t only exist to be sex symbols.

“We were disappointed that we couldn't get our own Mulan body type because we wanted it to be true to the character and true to the culture,'' Coats told the Los Angeles Daily News. “But at least she's less buxom than the original version. I think there will be people who appreciate that.”

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10 Fascinating Facts About Samuel L. Jackson

SUHAIMI ABDULLAH/GETTY IMAGES
SUHAIMI ABDULLAH/GETTY IMAGES

If you watch enough movies, you’re bound to spot Samuel L. Jackson. The 71-year-old star (he'll turn 72 on December 21, 2020) is one of the most prolific actors in Hollywood, appearing in Oscar-winning films like Pulp Fiction (1994) as well as blockbuster franchises like Jurassic Park, Star Wars, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From his background as an activist to the origin of his R-rated catchphrase, here are some things you should know about the Oscar-nominated actor.

1. Swearing helped Samuel L. Jackson manage his stutter.

Jamie McCarthy, Getty Images

Before he was one of Hollywood's most accomplished actors, Samuel L. Jackson had trouble speaking in front of others. He was bullied for his stutter as a child, and he avoided talking in school for nearly a year because of it. He eventually took the initiative to treat the issue on his own by researching breathing techniques at the library. He also came up with a unique anchor word: motherf***er. The expletive that helped him manage his speech impediment would also become his professional calling card later in life.

2. Samuel L. Jackson was an usher at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral.

The assassination of Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968 thrust a young Jackson into the Civil Rights Movement. Jackson, who was a sophomore at Morehouse College at the time, flew from Atlanta to Memphis a few days later to march in support of a garbage workers' strike. Back in Atlanta, he agreed to be an usher at MLK’s funeral when he heard they needed volunteers. In 2018, he wrote about the experience for The Hollywood Reporter, saying, “I remember seeing people like Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier. People that I thought I'd never see, let alone have a relationship with later on in life. The funeral was pretty much a blur.” He later staged a lock-in at his college that got him suspended.

3. Samuel L. Jackson almost became a marine biologist.

Jackson attended college in the 1960s with the intention of becoming a marine biologist. After he held the lock-in at Morehouse, he saw a performance by the Negro Ensemble Company that inspired him to pursue acting. When his suspension ended, he switched his major to drama and joined the theater group that inspired him.

4. Samuel L. Jackson was a stand-in on The Cosby Show.

Before he made it big in Hollywood, Jackson worked as a stand-in for Bill Cosby during tapings of the sitcom. "I was the right height, and I was the right skin tone," Jackson told Vulture in 2012 about the gig. "We did the blocking, while they did the camera choreography because it was a three-camera show. For two to three years, they would put his crazy sweaters on me."

5. Samuel L. Jackson's famous Jurassic Park line was inspired by another film.

Not long before he found a permanent place on Hollywood's A-list, Jackson played a small part in Jurassic Park (1993). John “Ray” Arnold wasn’t the star of the film, but he did say one of its more memorable lines: “Hold onto your butts.” Jurassic Park screenwriter David Koepp recently revealed that he borrowed the line from director Robert Zemeckis, who uttered it before watching reshoots of his film Death Becomes Her (1992).

6. Samuel L. Jackson asked for a purple lightsaber in the Star Wars prequels.

Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.

Jackson is such a big Star Wars fan that he immediately accepted the role of Jedi Mace Windu when George Lucas offered it to him. He did, however, make one request regarding the part: He wanted a purple lightsaber. Traditionally, lightsabers come in green for Jedi and red for Sith, but Lucas reluctantly agreed to make an exception for Mace Windu in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002). Jackson recounted the origins of his unique weapon on The Graham Norton Show: “We had this big arena, this fight scene with all these Jedi and they’re fighting or whatever. And I was like, well s***, I want to be able to find myself in this big ol’ scene. So I said to George, ‘You think maybe I can get a purple lightsaber?’”

7. Samuel L. Jackson is the highest grossing actor of all time.

Samuel L. Jackson has appeared in more than 150 movies, including blockbuster franchises like Star Wars and several of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including The Avengers series. So it’s not surprising that the actor has earned the distinction of being Hollywood’s highest-grossing actor. The combined box office earnings of all his films—which includes Avengers: Endgame, the biggest money-maker of all time—add up to more than $13 billion worldwide.

8. Samuel L. Jackson has his own wig consultant.

Jackson is bald in real life, but he has sported many iconic hairstyles over the course of his movie career. His ‘dos have become such a big part of his on-screen personas that he employs his own personal hair stylist and wig consultant. Robert L. Stevenson has used Jackson’s head as a canvas on dozens of films.

9. Samuel L. Jackson appears in Kill Bill Vol. 2.

After first collaborating with director Quentin Tarantino on Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown (1997), Jackson made a brief cameo in his Kill Bill series. The next time you watch Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004), pay close attention to Rufus the wedding piano player—he’s played by a familiar face.

10. You can hear Samuel L. Jackson on Amazon’s Alexa.

Jackson is known for his distinctive voice and colorful vocabulary. In 2019, the actor lent his vocal talents to Amazon’s Alexa. The Samuel L. Jackson Alexa option has many of the same capabilities as regular Alexa, including playing music, setting your alarm clock, and singing “Happy Birthday.” You can even let the feature use swear words for a more authentic experience.