Years before she was an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Ming-Na Wen voiced the title role in the 1998 Disney hit Mulan. Now she's bringing back the beloved character in Disney Channel's Sofia the First and TV Guide Magazine has the exclusive first look. The episode, airing Aug. 15, finds the feisty Chinese heroine giving strategic advice to little Sofia whose stepdad, the king, is trapped in a jaguar's den. We spoke with Wen about how it feels to be a part of Disney Princess history — even though the Mouse House had to fudge a bit!
TV Guide Magazine: Sofia the First has had several guest appearances by Disney princesses, including Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty's Aurora, who show up to help when Sofia is in a jam. Were you wondering if they'd ever get around to Mulan?
Wen: I was really hoping they'd bring her on some day and so thrilled they did! Mulan holds a very special place in my heart. It's been 16 years since the film, but hordes of fans still come up and tell me how much she means to them. And I love how Sofia the First is bringing back so many great characters. It's fantastic that Disney has taken these fragile princesses from decades ago and evolved them into really strong role models and mentors. And Sofia is a huge hit so the message is getting through to millions of little kids: Princesses can kick butt!
TV Guide Magazine: Though, technically, Mulan isn't royalty. Her father was a great military hero, right?
Wen: She does sit on the fence but Disney always considers her a princess in an honorary way. I'm so glad they cheated a little and let me in the club!
TV Guide Magazine: She was also the first princess at Disney to be based on legend, rather than a fairytale.
Wen: And I was apprehensive about that at first. Mulan is so important in Chinese folklore — a fearless girl who cared about her family and country so much that she was willing to join the fight and sacrifice herself. That's quite a statement. I was concerned about how the studio would Disney-fy her. Would she retain her cultural significance?
TV Guide Magazine: Especially with a little wisecracking dragon played by Eddie Murphy?
Wen: Right. But I needn't have worried. A great story transcends time and adaptation, and I was so happy with everything. Men love Mulan, women love her, so do kids, of course, and grandparents. She crosses all generations with her bravery and her humor. In fact, Disney took a legendary figure known pretty much only in Asia and made her international.
TV Guide Magazine: Any regrets that you had to share the role with Lea Salonga? You did the dialogue, she did the songs.
Wen: Gosh, no. [Laughs] I know my limits! Lea and I are friends and she has the superior voice — by far. It's like on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I do about 80 percent of my Agent May stunts but for the rest I'm totally fine with my stunt double taking over. I'm, like, "You handle this one. I'll just sit over here in the corner and watch!" Fans have actually suggested that Melinda May could be a descendant of Mulan.
TV Guide Magazine: Hey, Disney owns both properties. Why not?
Wen: Wouldn't that be fantastic?
TV Guide Magazine: Your daughter, Michaela Zee, is a regular on Sofia. Are you starting your own acting dynasty?
Wen: She's been doing the voice of Princess Jun for two years now, so I'm kind of riding on her coattails. Michaela also did the voice of Ginger, the Fireside Girl, on Phineas and Ferb, and I got to play her mother on that show. [Laughs] My child gets me work!