Why Disney’s Original ‘Mulan’ Doesn’t Include Chinese Buddhism

Disney’s original Mulan is one of the most famous Hollywood movies set in China, however, it declines to explore the rich history of Chinese Buddhism. There’s a very specific reason for this. Here’s what the film’s co-director, Tony Bancroft, said about the role of spirituality in the film and his career.

The Magic Kingdom with fireworks
The Magic Kingdom | Mark Ashman/Disney Parks via Getty Images

A Disney director reveals why he ‘didn’t give too much attention to Buddhist beliefs’ in the original ‘Mulan’

Mulan is a movie about a young woman who cross-dresses to get into the Chinese army. Interestingly, Bancroft told The Christian Post the film’s message has resonance for Christians. “The theme of the film is ‘be true to yourself,’ and that’s what Mulan’s journey was, and that’s what I wanted to give to my daughters,” he said. “Even Christians need to be true to themselves and not be ‘saved’ by their friends but be true to the values they hold in their own lives.”

In fact, Bancroft decided not to incorporate Buddhism into the film because of his Christian beliefs. “We did a lot of research to be culturally accurate and being a Christian, we made a pact that we wouldn’t go too deep into Buddhism but would stay true to our own beliefs,” he said. The film has some spirituality because the ghost of Mulan’s ancestors appear in the film as a sort of Greek chorus. However, Bancroft did not take this seriously. “The ancestors are supposed to be fun, light, so that we didn’t give too much attention to Buddhist beliefs and history.”

A for Disney’s original Mulan

RELATED: ‘Star Wars’: The Decision Disney Made That Carrie Fisher Called ‘Stupid’

As time went on, spirituality became a much more prominent part of Bancroft’s career. “I’ve done a lot of different things: after leaving Disney I founded my own animation company with friends of mine that focused exclusively on family entertainment,” he revealed. “It stemmed directly from a feeling to use the ability I had from God to use that craft and animation for God.”

The major impact of Disney’s original ‘Mulan’

By choosing not to explore Chinese Buddhism in Mulan, Bancroft ignored a major part of Chinese spirituality, culture, and history. However, this erasure did not stop the film from becoming a commercial success. According to Box Office Mojo, Mulan earned $22 million during its domestic opening weekend. In addition, it earned over $304 million worldwide. 

How Disney’s ‘Mulan’ became a franchise

Subsequently, Mulan became an enduring franchise. It inspired a direct-to-video sequel called Mulan II and a stage adaptation called Mulan Jr. Mulan also appeared as a character in the series Once Upon a Time, which includes numerous characters from Disney animated films. 

A trailer for the Mulan remake

RELATED: Disney Songwriters Can’t Agree If ‘Pocahontas’ Is Relevant or Offensive

More recently, Bancroft’s Mulan inspired the remake of the same name. Box Office Mojo reports the remake earned over $66 million even thought it was released during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Mulan franchise is a popular representation of China — even if it doesn’t represent all of Chinese culture. 

RELATED: Disney+ Censors a Butt With Hilarious CGI in the Tom Hanks Film ‘Splash’