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.

hua mulan statue in jurong gardens, singapore
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 in 2018
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.”

Watch John Krasinski Interview Steve Carell About The Office's 15th Anniversary

John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
NBC Universal, Inc.

The Office just passed a major milestone: It has been 15 years since the American adaptation of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's hit British sitcom made its way to NBC, where it ran for nine seasons. To celebrate the show's big anniversary, former co-stars John Krasinski and Steve Carell reunited in the best way possible: Carell appeared as a guest on Krasinski's new YouTube show, where the two decided to spread some positivity.

Krasinski just launched his very own news show titled Some Good News, and it's exactly what we've all been needing. During this segment, he interviewed Carell via video call, and the two shared their favorite memories of working on the beloved workplace comedy.

"It's such a happy surprise," Carell said of The Office's continued success. "After all these years people are still tuning in and finding it." The two also addressed the question that's been on every fan's mind: is there a chance that we'll see the Dunder Mifflin crew reunite in some way?

"Listen, I know everyone's talking about a reunion," Krasinski said. "Hopefully one day we'll just all get to reunite as people."

You can watch the full episode below. (Carell joins the video around the 5:50 minute mark.)

15 Facts About John Brown, the Real-Life Abolitionist at the Center of The Good Lord Bird

John Brown, circa 1846.
John Brown, circa 1846.
Augustus Washington/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, was meant to start an armed slave revolt, and ultimately end slavery. Though Brown succeeded in taking over the federal armory, the revolt never came to pass—and Brown paid for the escapade with his life.

In the more than 160 years since that raid, John Brown has been called a hero, a madman, a martyr, and a terrorist. Now Showtime is exploring his legacy with an adaption of James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. Like the novel it’s based on, the miniseries—which stars Ethan Hawke—will cover the exploits of Brown and his allies. Here's what you should know about John Brown before you watch.

1. John Brown was born into an abolitionist family on May 9, 1800.

John Brown was born to Owen and Ruth Mills Brown in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800. After his family relocated to Hudson, Ohio (where John was raised), their new home would become an Underground Railroad station. Owen would go on to co-found the Western Reserve Anti-Slavery Society and was a trustee at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, one of the first American colleges to admit black (and female) students.

2. John Brown declared bankruptcy at age 42.

At 16, Brown went to school with the hope of becoming a minister, but eventually left the school and, like his father, became a tanner. He also dabbled in surveying, canal-building, and the wool trade. In 1835, he bought land in northeastern Ohio. Thanks partly the financial panic of 1837, Brown couldn’t satisfy his creditors and had to declare bankruptcy in 1842. He later tried peddling American wool abroad in Europe, where he was forced to sell it at severely reduced prices. This opened the door for multiple lawsuits when Brown returned to America.

3. John Brown's Pennsylvania home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania
The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometime around 1825, Brown moved himself and his family to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he set up a tannery and built a house and a barn with a hidden room that was used by slaves on the run. Brown reportedly helped 2500 slaves during his time in Pennsylvania; the building was destroyed in 1907 [PDF], but the site, which is now a museum that is open to the public, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown moved his family back to Ohio in 1836.

4. After Elijah Lovejoy's murder, John Brown pledged to end slavery.

Elijah Lovejoy was a journalist and the editor of the St. Louis/Alton Observer, a staunchly anti-slavery newspaper. His editorials enraged those who defended slavery, and in 1837, Lovejoy was killed when a mob attacked the newspaper’s headquarters.

The incident lit a fire under Brown. When he was told about Lovejoy’s murder at an abolitionist prayer meeting in Hudson, Brown—a deeply religious man—stood up and raised his right hand, saying “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery."

5. John Brown moved to the Kansas Territory after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that it would be the people of Kansas and Nebraska who would decide if their territories would be free states or slave states. New England abolitionists hoping to convert the Kansas Territory into a Free State moved there in droves and founded the city of Lawrence. By the end of 1855, John Brown had also relocated to Kansas, along with six of his sons and his son-in-law. Opposing the newcomers were slavery supporters who had also arrived in large numbers.

6. John Brown’s supporters killed five pro-slavery men at the 1856 Pottawatomie Massacre.

A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry
A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 21, 1856, Lawrence was sacked by pro-slavery forces. The next day, Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, was beaten with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks on the Senate floor until he lost consciousness. (A few days earlier, Sumner had insulted Democratic senators Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler in his "Crime Against Kansas" speech; Brooks was a representative from Butler’s state of South Carolina.)

In response to those events, Brown led a group of abolitionists into a pro-slavery settlement by the Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24. On Brown’s orders, five slavery sympathizers were forced out of their houses and killed with broadswords.

Newspapers across the country denounced the attack—and John Brown in particular. But that didn't dissuade him: Before his final departure from Kansas in 1859, Brown participated in many other battles across the region. He lost a son, Frederick Brown, in the fighting.

7. John Brown led a party of liberated slaves all the way from Missouri to Michigan.

In December 1858, John Brown crossed the Kansas border and entered the slave state of Missouri. Once there, he and his allies freed 11 slaves and led them all the way to Detroit, Michigan, covering a distance of more than 1000 miles. (One of the liberated women gave birth en route.) Brown’s men had killed a slaveholder during their Missouri raid, so President James Buchanan put a $250 bounty on the famed abolitionist. That didn’t stop Brown, who got to watch the people he’d helped free board a ferry and slip away into Canada.

8. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was meant to instigate a nationwide slave uprising.

On October 16, 1859, Brown and 18 men—including five African Americans—seized control of a U.S. armory in the Jefferson County, Virginia (today part of West Virginia) town of Harpers Ferry. The facility had around 100,000 weapons stockpiled there by the late 1850s. Brown hoped his actions would inspire a large-scale slave rebellion, with enslaved peoples rushing to collect free guns, but the insurrection never came.

9. Robert E. Lee played a part in John Brown’s arrest.

Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Shortly after Brown took Harpers Ferry, the area was surrounded by local militias. On the orders of President Buchanan, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee entered the fray with a detachment of U.S. Marines. The combined might of regional and federal forces proved too much for Brown, who was captured in the Harpers Ferry engine house on October 18, 1859. Ten of Brown's men died, including two more of his sons.

10. John Brown was put on trial a week after his capture.

After his capture, Brown—along with Aaron Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, and John Copeland—was put on trial. When asked if the defendants had counsel, Brown responded:

"Virginians, I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken. I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial: but, under no circumstances whatever will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood, you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel: I have not been able to advise with anyone ... I am ready for my fate. I do not ask a trial. I beg for no mockery of a trial—no insult—nothing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive you to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial."

Brown would go on to plead not guilty. Just days later, he was found “guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel, and murder in the first degree” and was sentenced to hang.

11. John Brown made a grim prophecy on the morning of his death.

On the morning of December 2, 1859, Brown passed his jailor a note that read, “I … am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” He was hanged later that day.

12. Victor Hugo defended John Brown.

Victor Hugo—the author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who was also an abolitionist—penned an open letter on John Brown’s behalf in 1859. Desperate to see him pardoned, Hugo wrote, “I fall on my knees, weeping before the great starry banner of the New World … I implore the illustrious American Republic, sister of the French Republic, to see to the safety of the universal moral law, to save John Brown.” Hugo’s appeals were of no use. The letter was dated December 2—the day Brown was hanged.

13. Abraham Lincoln commented on John Brown's death.

Abraham Lincoln, who was then in Kansas, said, “Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a State. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.”

14. John Brown was buried in North Elba, New York.

John Brown's gravesite in New York
John Brown's gravesite in New York.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1849, Brown had purchased 244 acres of property from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, in North Elba, New York. The property was near Timbuctoo, a 120,000-acre settlement that Smith had started in 1846 to give African American families the property they needed in order to vote (at that time, state law required black residents to own $250 worth of property to cast a vote). Brown had promised Smith that he would assist his new neighbors in cultivating the mountainous terrain.

When Brown was executed, his family interred the body at their North Elba farm—which is now a New York State Historic Site.

15. The tribute song "John Brown's Body" shares its melody with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

It didn’t take long for Brown to become a martyr. Early in the 1860s, the basic melody of “Say Brothers Will You Meet Us,” a popular camp hymn, was fitted with new lyrics about the slain abolitionist. Titled “John Brown’s Body,” the song spread like wildfire in the north—despite having some lines that were deemed unsavory. Julia Ward Howe took the melody and gave it yet another set of lyrics. Thus was born “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Union marching anthem that's still widely known today.

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