Eddie Murphy's wise-cracking dragon Mushu from the 1998 animation is nowhere to be seen.
"This is huge, that a major studio has the confidence in an all-Asian, Asian-American cast, to put their weight and financial support behind it," said Ma. "It should be a benchmark. It should be something the world can see, that this is viable."
Gone too are the musical numbers and romantic sub-plots. New Zealand director Niki Caro ("Whale Rider") chose a more mature tone, with beautifully choreographed fight scenes and landscapes reminiscent of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon".
The theme of women's empowerment also comes to the fore, both in star Yifei Liu's physical performance, and the introduction of a mysterious new female foe (Gong Li.)
"I don't think Niki wanted to do a remake," said Ma. "That's not what we're trying to do. We really want to connect to the original ballad as our focal point.
"I loved the songs... but it is not our mission here."
Initial reviews have been cautiously positive, with many praising the film's stunning visuals and willingness to depart from the animation, but some criticizing a lack of character depth or humor.
For the cast, after months of limbo, the film's long-awaited release alone is a reason to celebrate.