The Disney Studio will release the 1998 Disney animated film “Mulan” in connection with the new live-action version set to hit stores Nov. 10. The films will be available separately or in a two-movie collection.
“Mulan” was a monumental moment for the studio when it opened more than two decades ago. It was both the first time one of the studio’s films focused on an Asian character and the first time that the female central figure was so strong that didn’t have to wait to be saved by a man.
Ming-Na Wen – who’s known for work ranging from “ER” to “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”- provided the voice for Mulan in the animated tale. As a fan of Disney movies, she was overjoyed to have the opportunity to be part of a character who could become as iconic as Cinderella or the Little Mermaid.
Wen knew there was also a more important element to being part of the film.
“I remember thinking that it was such a huge risk that Disney was taking because it was a story that was very ethnic,” Wen says. “It was focused on a Chinese folklore. They were tackling this renowned story that I grew up with and so many Chinese people grew up with.
“But most Americans and people in other countries did not know about Mulan.”
Wen also recognized that because Mulan was such a strong character that made her very different from all of the past lead characters in the studio’s animated films. She was proud to be providing the voice for a female character who was a warrior and a fighter.
Mulan – in both the animated and live-action versions – is a fearless young woman who risks everything out of love for her family and her country to become one of the greatest warriors China has ever known. It is Mulan who steps up when the Emperor of China issues a decree that one man per family must serve in the Imperial Army to defend the country from Northern invaders.
She disguises herself as a man to take the place of her ailing father.
“Even though she (Mulan) had a lot of doubts, she eventually found the potential that was just lying underneath all that doubt,” Wen says. “That’s what she related so much across the board and the film transcended culture.
“It was about discovering what you can become. She offered that hope for so many people.”
Wen points out that Mulan became such a widely embraced character, she’s now included among the “Disney Princesses” despite the fact Mulan was not a true princess.
Wen’s resume is full of credits for animated projects such as “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” “Sofia the First,” “We Bare Bears” and “Phineas and Ferb.” But, “Mulan” was the first voiceover work for Wen.
“This was an incredible new process for me,” Wen says. “The wonderful thing about doing voiceover work that I discovered was that it was all about the acting. It was all about the voice.
“You didn’t have to worry if you had a pimple on your face. You didn’t have to worry about dark circles under your eyes or if you were having a bad hair day. It was just purely acting and so freeing.”
Once Wen realized that she would have to use her imagination so much then the process felt very comfortable.
There was a little bit of a rocky start as Wen – who was in her early ‘30s when the production of “Mulan” started – auditioned for the role using what she considered to be a teenager’s voice. The directors quickly pointed out they wanted a more mature sound and Wen was set.
The voice work she did for the original “Mulan” can be heard as the film will be available in 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD. You can also see her work in the live-action version as Wen makes a cameo appearance.
As for being part of the live-action version of “Mulan,” Wen has only one regret. The film was scheduled to be released in theaters but because of the pandemic, it debuted on the streaming service of Disney+. Wen’s sad the movie could not be seen on a large screen because she considers the film to be so beautifully shot.
“It is such a lush, beautiful, action-packed film,” Wen says. “I think what was smart of them was to make a story that stood on its own. There’s been a lot of other films that almost mimic what the animated film was.
“I think with this they wanted ‘Mulan’ to be a bit different for the live action. Then it became very different. What they accomplished was incredible.”