We’re about a year away from the first promotional campaigns for Disney’s live action Mulan film. But so far, the chatter surrounding the film (including the chatter I’ve put out on this site) has been tepid, to put it kindly. I guess the most honest way to describe feelings attached to the film’s highly-watched production is that people are concerned, irritated, and in some cases angry about what’s going on with the transition of their beloved animated classic.

I can’t say I blame anyone. Heck, I’m irritated myself. Like so many in my age bracket, I grew up watching Mulan ad nauseum as a kid. A live action Mulan just isn’t the same without Shang, Ling, Chien-Po Yao, and Shan Yu, not to mention Mushu. But instead, we’re getting a Mulan we’re not familiar with. Among the changes: Yoson An will play some guy named Chen Hongui who replaces Shang (even though Hongui seems like he’s going to have the same reckoning with his sexuality that Shang had), Donnie Yen is Mulan’s mentor Commander Tung, and Gong Li as a witch, and the latest addition is Jason Scott Lee as Bori Khan, a warrior who joins with Li’s witch character to avenge his father’s death.

As you can see, these characters replace a lot of well-known fan favorites. A lot of fans have been perplexed as to why Disney is seemingly sabotaging the film before it even gets out the gate.

My theory was that perhaps Disney (and China?) have been trying to rework the film as a way to lose the clear queer angle the original animated film has. Of course, there’s Shang, who loves Mulan in both her male and female guises, but there’s also the fact that the film has queer in-jokes running throughout the film, such as scenes involving humor around gender and sexuality, like when a naked Mulan is trapped in the pond with her equally naked cohorts, when girls giggle at Ping during the “A Girl Worth Fighting For” sequence, and when Mulan dresses Ling, Chien-Po, and Yao in drag to break into the Emperor’s palace. There’s also the fact that Disney cast gay actors, such as B.D. Wong, George Takei and Harvey Fierstein who voice Shang, the First Ancestor and Yao, respectively.

However, Twitter account Nerdy Asians has put out a theory that really rings true the more you read it. Could it be that Disney doesn’t fully own the rights to some elements of Mulan‘s intellectual property?

Nerdy Asians released their theory in a recent Twitter thread:

Makes sense, doesn’t it? It would explain why Disney can make a mostly-faithful adaptation of Aladdin complete with classic characters like the Genie, Jafar, et al., but flounder with Mulan.

I asked Nerdy Asians via Twitter more about their assertion concerning the legal issues Disney might be facing when it comes to Mulan. The account is run by more than one person, and their response to me was that one of the group’s members realized that some of the live action film’s cherry picking, such as only bringing the Emperor and Mulan to the live action adaptation, must be because these are the only two characters who are essentially public domain by virtue of their historical status.

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“[O]ne of us is just really into Mulan and thought that it was odd that the only two characters from the original were legally free for anyone to use because no one owns the rights to Mulan and and The Emperor of China,” the account wrote. “She was certain it was something legal that was stopping Disney from using any of the original characters and started researching.”

“One thing people don’t understand is that we’re not saying Disney can’t use the original Mulan characters as they did in the direct to video sequel,” they wrote. “They just won’t receive as large of a profit. And for smaller ventures that would be fine maybe for them. But for a huge live action film it might not be fine.”

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They further explain this in some new tweets:

What do you think about this theory? Give your opinions below!

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