Why Disney’s Darkest Mulan Scene Was Cut

Disney's original Mulan is one of the all-time great animated films, but it nearly included a much darker turn that was ultimately cut. Because it's based on an ancient Chinese folk story, the Ballad of Mulan, which centers on a young woman going to war, it's no surprise that the Disney adaptation includes some scenes of violence and peril. However, because it was always intended as a children's movie, there were some lines the film simply couldn't cross.

The primary antagonist in the original 1998 animated Mulan is Shan Yu, leader of the Hun Army. Like Mulan, he's a highly fictionalized character, but even more so given that Shan Yu does not even appear in the Ballad of Mulan, which is actually rather short in its written form. Rather, Mulan's creative team invented the character to act as an emblem of the broader threat of the Hun invasion, which does allude to the war likely referenced in the Ballad, between the Northern Wei state and the Mongolic state Rouran. Throughout Mulan, Shan Yu is a ruthless and terrifying antagonist, and an earlier version of the story even had him wielding spiritual powers in which he could see through the eyes of his falcon; this is likely why Shan Yu's eyes are black in Disney's original Mulan.


Related: Why Mulan Is A Disney Princess (Despite Not Actually Being Royalty)

But Mulan's darkest Shan Yu scene was cut because it was simply too scary and violent for Disney's younger fanbase. The beginning of the film initially included a scene of Shan Yu and his army slaughtering an entire town, which would then lead to their relentless march towards the Chinese capital. While this would have underscored Shan Yu's villainy rather thoroughly, it would have been too brutal and potentially graphic for a children's movie—especially one from Disney.

Shang observes the wreckage of a town in the original animated Mulan

Of course, Mulan is a story about war, so it would be unrealistic to avoid violence or bloodshed entirely. Even in the film's final version, Shang's regiment does discover a town destroyed by the Huns, and the entire Imperial Army, including Shang's father, slain along with it. Mulan also bleeds when she's wounded in battle later on. But unlike Disney's live-action remake, Mulan is a kids' film, and these more violent moments are actually much milder than they could be. The film doesn't actually show the Huns destroying the Imperial Army, and Mulan's wound is only shown briefly. By contrast, an outright slaughter of scores of innocent civilians right at the film's beginning would likely dissuade many children (and their parents) from watching the rest of Mulan.

Even without this deleted scene, Shan Yu's terror still comes across clearly. His motivations might be a bit one-dimensional, but he's an effective antagonist for Mulan, who proves her bravery by standing up to him throughout the film. He's simultaneously one of Disney's most evil, yet under-discussed villains, which is also part of why 2020's Mulan is missing Shan Yu. But if Disney's original Mulan had used its darkest Shan Yu scene instead of cutting it, it's likely his reputation would be much more significant in a very negative way, as he would be responsible for excessively scarring many young viewers.