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“I am the guardian of lost souls! I am the powerful, the pleasurable, the indestructible Mushu!”
Mushu is the deuteragonist of Disney's 1998 animated feature film, Mulan. He is a pint-sized, fast-talking, self-absorbed Chinesedragon and the self-appointed guardian of Fa Mulan.
Mushu used to be a guardian spirit of the Fa family, but he had been demoted to the humiliating position of an incense burner and gong-ringer for the deceased Fa ancestors ever since he failed to protect a family member, a soldier named Fa Deng, resulting in the soldier's demise by decapitation (he is seen carrying his own head as a spirit). Mushu's reputation would suffer dearly from this, with the eldest of the ancestors refusing to even acknowledge Mushu as a "real dragon", evoking a bitter and eager-to-please side to his personality.
Mulan's early story development was concurrent with a Scottish folk tale project that featured a dragon character. When that project ended up being canceled, Mulan ended up inheriting the idea of a dragon sidekick.
At first, Mulan's companions were to be two reptilian creatures; the idea of the creatures being dragons had not yet been established. However, feeling that two sidekicks would overcrowd the story, the animators then decided on a two-headed dragon, though they were green and grotesque. After the animators decided on a single-headed dragon, they established Mushu's physical concept. Originally, Disney rejected the idea of having a dragon as Mulan's partner, but after learning that Chinese dragons could be many different sizes, the idea came back. For better use, the animators shrunk Mushu to a smaller size.
Around the time when the music of the film was to be created, the songwriters had written a piece for Mushu for him to sing to assure Mulan that he'll be there to help her. However, after Eddie Murphy came to voice the character, the character and his dynamic changed and the animators canceled the piece, although it was a favorite among the filmmakers.
In contrast to Mulan, Mushu is in most situations more comical, overconfident, and impulsive. He strives to be one of the family guardians again and selfishly comes to Mulan's aid to turn her into a war hero, believing this will get him back on the "top shelf." However, he eventually comes to realize the error of his ways, admitting to Mulan that he risked her life to further his own goals. Mushu even comes to care about Mulan where he places her safety and happiness above his own, showing a side of selflessness. He then intends to take her home to face the consequences of his actions, but when she insists on stopping the Huns, Mushu loyally follows her, showing that underneath, he has a good heart.
Mushu is always paired with Cri-Kee, who acts as a straight-man sidekick to the gregarious Mushu. Together, the two are often at odds, as Cri-Kee is selfless and cautious, whilst Mushu is often self-centered and impulsive. Cri-Kee will often try to guide Mushu down the right path, but Mushu often takes this as nothing more than pestering. Despite their "frenemy" status, Mushu values Cri-Kee as his friend and partner.
Powers and abilities
Mushu is based on a traditional Eastern dragon, which is radically different from Western dragons. Unlike their Western counterparts, Eastern dragons could control many elements and do not require wings to fly and were portrayed as benevolent creatures, oftentimes respected as gods. Mushu's element, however (presumably to reassure the viewers that he is a dragon) is fire. However, even the Great Ancestor himself does not consider Mushu to be a "real" dragon - he is very small, about the size of a lizard, and his fire-breathing ability is less than impressive, making him more useful as an emergency fire-lighter rather than as a weapon. According to a statement by Mushu, this is not his real size and claims to be larger than a horse at least, although this is not proven.
As a mythical creature, Mushu is very durable, to the point of being seemingly immortal. He endures being stomped on, explosions, and an avalanche in the first movie. He can also understand other animals, as seen when he converses with Cri-Kee, Mulan's lucky cricket, and her horse Khan. At one point, when he disguises himself as a soldier riding a horse but cannot find a horse (except for Khan who wouldn't help anyway), he finds and persuades a panda bear.
Mushu also claims that he has the ability to see straight through Mulan's armor (and presumably other things), but this is a one-off joke that is never brought up again.
At the start of the film, Mushu is first seen as a copper incense burner in the Fa Family's temple when Fa Zhou prays for the ancestors to help Mulan impress the matchmaker. Mushu does not make his official appearance in his living form until after Mulan runs away from home to serve in her elderly father Fa Zhou's place in a war against the deadly Hun army. Knowing that Mulan's exposure will lead to the disgrace of the Fa family, the spirits of the ancestors choose to send the Great Stone Dragon to simply bring her back safely. For the task of awakening him, they send Mushu, who is offended when he is not asked to find her himself. In the past, his actions in protecting the Fa family led to disaster. After several unsuccessful attempts at waking the dragon, he ends up accidentally destroying the dragon statue. Cri-Kee suggests that Mushu bring Mulan back safe instead so that he won't be punished, but Mushu decides to make his own plan and sets out to make Mulan a war hero, selfishly endangering her life in the process.
He meets her in a bamboo thicket overlooking the army camp and poses as her powerful guardian, offering to "guide her through her masquerade," though she is mildly impressed because of his small stature. They make their way for the camp where Mushu continuously gives Mulan (in the guise of Ping) unsuccessful advice on acting masculine. The advice eventually leads to a brawl which causes Mulan to become the most unpopular soldier at the camp. For the next couple of days, Mulan progresses along with the others in skills, but the Emperor's adviser Chi-Fu feels the troops are still unqualified for the war. To keep his plan intact, Mushu creates a phony message alerting Captain Li Shang and the troops to head to the front immediately.
During a run-in with Shan Yu and the Huns (inadvertently caused by Mushu, himself), Mulan gets injured and is forced into medical care. This results in Mulan's secret being discovered, and she is left on a mountain summit as punishment. Mushu takes the time to come clean with his ulterior motives, but apologizes and promises to stay by Mulan's side no matter what. Just then, Mulan spots Shan Yu, the leader of the Huns, making way for the city. Mulan, Mushu, Cri-Kee, and Khan make way to the city to warn Shang. At the Emperor's palace, Mulan battles Shan Yu and comes up with a plan. She leads him onto the roof, where Mushu fires a rocket at the villain. Shan Yu is then blasted to the New Year's fireworks tower and is killed in the explosion. Mulan is deemed China's bravest warrior, and as a reward for his assistance in restoring the Fa family honor, Mushu regains his job as a family guardian (to the reluctance of the First Fa Ancestor).
In the sequel, Mushu serves as the tritagonist. When Mulan prepares to marry Li Shang, Mushu is at first overjoyed to the point of tears, going as far as planning the wedding himself. However, things change once the ancestors tell him that if Mulan marries Shang, his family's guardians will take over for him, thus demoting Mushu back to gong duty. Desperate to keep his job, he continuously tries to break the two apart to keep his position.
After many failed attempts, he finally succeeds. However, Mushu begins to feel regret and eventually tells Mulan the truth, infuriating her for a time. Aside from this, Mulan and Shang were meant to escort three princesses to a kingdom for an arranged marriage with the pompous Lord Qin's childish son, Prince Jeeki. The princesses fall in love with Yao, Ling, and Chien Po, with Mulan supporting it after Mushu's schemes. To prevent the princesses from marrying, Mulan agrees to marry the prince in their place.
To redeem himself, and rescue Mulan from her fate, Mushu poses himself as the worshiped Golden Dragon of Unity and forces the king to cancel the marriage, allowing Mulan and Shang to marry as planned, along with allowing the princesses to marry who they love. Having grown less selfish, Mushu serves as the reverend and pronounces the human husband and wife. Back at home, Mushu prepares to leave his pedestal and return to gong duty, but Mulan and Shang arrive at the temple and merge the family temples, thus allowing Mushu to keep his job, which causes him to celebrate and also accidentally appear in front of Shang, who had learned about him through Mulan.
Mushu appears as a recurring guest in the animated series and is usually seen with Cri-Kee. He typically acts as something of a heckler.
In "House of Genius", Mushu expressed his annoyance with Donald's voice and after the staff was replaced with robotic counterparts, he claims the Robo-Donald to be much better than the real Donald, but later came to dislike the robots along with the other guests.
In "Chip 'n' Dale", Mushu was the only guest to help Pete finally open his bag of nuts.
In "Dining Goofy", Goofy mixed up Mushu's order and gave him ice water, resulting in Mushu losing his fire-breathing abilities. Later, when the computers took over Goofy's waiting duties, he and Cri-Kee were served spicy Kung Pao Chicken, which helped regain Mushu's fire-breathing abilities.
In "Halloween With Hades", he comments in response to Hades being rejected by Maleficent with "Ouch, talk about being shot down in flames".
In Once Upon a Time, Mushu does not appear. However, the personality, costume design, and red smoke power of the Dragon (portrayed by Tzi Ma) in season two—a Chinese Healer established in Hong Kong and killed by Tamara—is reminiscent of Mushu.
In the interactive game, Mushu is tasked by the Great Ancestor to deliver magical scrolls to the Emperor. After being startled by Cri-Kee, Mushu accidentally drops the scrolls, which causes some details of Mulan's story to go missing. Mushu then embarks on a journey throughout China to recover the scroll's magic and complete his assignment. In the end, he successfully reaches the Emperor and asks if his majesty is in need of an "imperial guardian."
Mushu plays a recurring role in the franchise serving a unique role as a summon in Kingdom Hearts and Chain of Memories, where he can appear to Sora by a card or gem and aid him in battle. His world does not appear in Kingdom Hearts, due to its destruction. Fortunately, after the conclusion of the game, his world is restored, and he returns to it.
Mushu resumes the events of his world in Kingdom Hearts II continuing with Mulan on her journey, although not as a summon. However, he has a larger involvement in his world's storyline as a reprisal of his role from the film. In during which, he ropes Sora, Donald, and Goofy into helping Mulan become a war hero as "payback" for his work as a summon in the original Kingdom Hearts. Despite no longer serving as a summon, Mushu is instrumental to Sora and Mulan's joint limit attack, where he launches fireballs into the sky, which crashes onto the battlefield and eradicates numerous enemies at a time.
Mushu is one of the many captive Disney characters in the game, trapped in the Wasteland by an evil witch known as Mizrabel, along with Mulan. After being rescued, the warrior asks Mickey Mouse to find Mushu, which he does in the Castle South Hall. After being rescued, he retires to the Fortress with the other rescued Disney characters until eventually returning back home to the world of iconic Disney characters.
The characters of Mushu's Chinese name "木/Mù" and "須/xū" mean "wood" and "necessary" respectively.
The latter character, as a noun, also means "beard," "palpus," or "feeler."
The latter character used for Mushu's name is the traditional form; the simplified form is: 须.
Eddie Murphy could not reprise his role as Mushu for Mulan II due to a clause in his contract for Shrek 2. Because of this, Mark Moseley replaced him. Coincidentally, Moseley has also filled in for Murphy by voicing Donkey in the Shrek video games.
Joe Pesci was originally cast as Mushu, but after a few voice tryouts, the animators didn't think that he was right for the role. In addition to Pesci, Steve Martin, Sinbad, Chris Tucker, Chris Rock, and Drew Carey were also considered to voice Mushu.
In the film, when looking for Mulan during the avalanche sequence of the Tung Shao Pass, he sees some hair in the snow and, thinking it's Mulan, pulls out what's really a Hun, then quickly puts him back under the snow and sheepishly exclaims, "Nope!", to the audience.
In Kingdom Hearts, Mushu produces his own copy of the original Kingdom Hearts manga and is annoyed to discover that he does not appear.
In House of Mouse, we learn that his favorite foods are Kung Pao chicken and freshly roasted nuts. Drinking iced water prohibits his ability to breathe fire for a little while.
In the early concept of Mulan II, Mushu was originally going to have a love interest in the form of a female dragon that looks almost identical to him. This dragon in question would have also presumably served as either Shang's confidant or family guardian.
In the Disney Junior Encyclopedia of Animated Characters book, it says that he seems to be the only one who understands Cri-Kee's speech and often translates the little cricket's chirping.
He does not appear in the 2020 live-action version. However, his role is replaced by a red-and-yellow phoenix due to cultural appropriation.
Despite not appearing and being replaced, the phoenix itself bears a similar color scheme to Mushu.