My eighth favorite dragon, and admittedly my third favorite amongst the Disney Family, Mushu is one of the few popularized Asian dragons in the western hemisphere. There is much to Mushu’s character that is fairly obvious to anyone who has seen the film and many that are not. To get the more obvious ones out of the way, Mushu is not truly a dragon in the strictest sense of the word insomuch that while he certainly is a dragon in body and form, he is not entirely so in function. Predominately, he is a guardian of the Fa family and spends most of his time in a form of hibernation in the form of either a stone or brass statue depending on whether one takes into account his pre and post guardian days. For while Mushu is certainly enthusiastic about his job, he is oftentimes too much so and can get he and his charge in deep trouble and had even, however unintentionally, caused the beheading of one of Mulan’s ancestors.
What’s rather distinct about Mushu is that he can breathe fire, a trait not all that common amongst dragons of the Orient as they are mainly considered creatures of the oceanic depths who can bring forth whole floods of rain with but the slightest of gestures. Though, to be fair, Mushu’s fire breathing is limited to lighting cannons and fireworks as he is either too small or too young to truly breathe a dragon’s breath of flame. Also, another notable distinction amongst dragons of Asia is that Mushu can understand other animals though that doesn’t mean that he gets anymore respect from them as was demonstrated from a less-than-impressed Khan.
Though often popularized with the title of Chinese Dragons here in the West, Mushu’s ilk is more commonly referred to as “lóng” in his native Madarin. What makes Mushu a particularly interesting specimen of his kind is not only his distinctive red coloration but the number of claws he possesses. For while there is little distinction amongst Western dragons as far as power, ability, or even standing are concerned, such is not the case for Eastern dragons. Three clawed dragons were for the daily masses while the five clawed dragon was reserved strictly for the ruling Emperor and no other on penalty of treason. In Mushu’s case his having four claws means he is a dragon who guards those of the Imperial family or at least high-ranking officials, which means that Mulan’s family was quite famous even before her exploits with the Hun invasion.
As to Mushu’s coloration, red is considered first and foremost the color of fire, hence his ability to breathe fire, but also symbolizes good fortune and joy, the first of which Mushu was severely lacking and the latter that he had in spades. Yellow is primarily the color used for the Imperial family but only so when the entirety of the dragon is such a marvelous shade rather than just the underbelly. In Mushu’s case, the color represents freedom from worldly cares, which I suppose is a roundabout nod towards Mulan breaking so many common standards in women at the time or was simply an apt color choice that I’m overanalyzing. Lastly, Mushu’s horns being blue… now there’s an interesting thing there as in Ancient China, blue and its shades alongside certain hues of green fell under the word “qing” and represented nature, renewal, vigor, and vitality.
Mushu is by far the most humoristic dragon I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing on the silver screen and one I’ve yet to see again since. Even amongst the many works of literature I’ve read since, I’ve yet to find another dragon, whole and completely so, that could make me laugh as much as Mushu can. Most certainly not one from the Orient for while Mushu is a class all to his own, I do not doubt that he is something of a red sheep amongst his kin for his severe lack of utter seriousness and heavenly wisdom that even the most common of his ilk possess.
This does not make Mushu any less of a dragon in my book though. If anything, this makes him the most human of any dragon from the Orient, one who has his faults and his strengths and is not afraid to admit to either of them. When he does something wrong, he always gives it his all to make it right. That and what other dragon can proclaim doing the work of the story’s hero whilst letting said hero take all the glory?