Disney animators were very keen to gain the support of the Chinese government, hoping that it might help smooth over relations following the upset that had been caused by the Disney-funded release of Kundun (1997).
In the original Chinese legend upon which this film was based, Mulan succeeds in her deception, and leaves the battlefield with great honors. Months later, Mulan's fellow soldiers come in search of their "brother"-in-arms, and are shocked to discover that she's a woman.
When Mulan sings "Reflection" in her father's shrine, her reflection appears in the polished surface of the temple stones. The writing on the temple stones is the names of the Disney animators who worked on the film written in ancient Chinese.
Credited with launching the career of Christina Aguilera whose first song to be released in the US was the film's song 'Reflection'. The song went down so well that it landed her a recording contract with RCA Records.
According to Robert D. San Souci, who retold and researched the original story, Disney didn't like the idea of putting in a dragon as a companion for Mulan; they feared it would be too big and menacing. San Souci explained to them that in Chinese lore, dragons can be any size, so a small dragon was approved. Thus, Mushu was born. This change is acknowledged when Mulan calls him "tiny" and Mushu replies, "Of course! I'm travel size for you convenience! If I was my REAL size your cow (Khan) here would die of fright!"
This was originally planned as an animated short entitled "China Doll" about an oppressed and miserable Chinese girl who is whisked away by a British Prince Charming to happiness in the West. Then Disney consultant and children's book writer 'Robert San Souci' suggested making a movie of the Chinese poem, 'The Song of Fa Mu Lan', so the two projects were combined.
The movie's artistic supervisors spent three weeks in China sketching, photographing, and soaking up the culture. Computer animators used the latest technology to add detail and mimic camera techniques that were previously unavailable in animation, like crowd scenes of up to 30,000 people. They used a computer program called "Atilla" to make the sequence featuring 2,000 Huns on horseback.
In the scene where Mushu awakens the ancestors, one set of grandparents worry that Mulan's quest will ensure her family loses their farm. This couple appear to be the couple on the farm in Grant Wood's famous painting 'American Gothic'. An uncredited Barry Cook, one of the film's directors, provides the man's voice.
Tony/Olivier Award Winning actress Lea Salonga originally auditioned for Mulan's voice but was deemed 'not deep enough' for when Mulan is impersonating a male soldier. Although 'Ming Na' plays Mulan, Salonga was retained for Mulan's singing voice.
In one of the original versions of the film, Mulan was engaged to Li Shang and matching Yin-Yang necklaces were bestowed upon them. Although that part was removed, the Yin-Yang necklaces survive in the sequel (Mulan II (2004)) as wedding gifts to them after Shang's proposition.
Mulan (voiced by Ming-Na) is a female who dresses and passes as male to join the military. BD Wong (the voice of Shang) began his acting career as a male who dresses and passes as a female in M. Butterfly.
Co-director Barry Cook cites David Lean as one of his influences. This is particularly evident given the epic sweep of the Hun mountainside advance of 2,000 soldiers on the Imperial troops and the later crowd sequence of 30,000 in the Imperial City.
After the departure of Jeffrey Katzenberg in 1994, the story was infused with a lighter touch and handed over to the fairly new Florida feature unit. Up till that point, they had been mainly responsible for the Roger Rabbit shorts.