The Power of Choice Represented in Disney’s “Mulan”

(Note: this is an old post from my old blog, and I thought that I would share it with you. Not only is “Mulan” one of my favorite childhood films, but it also brings up interesting topics about female depiction in Disney cartoons. Part 6 of 14)

I think it is common knowledge that Disney = childhood. We are brought up with the classics, including “Snow White,” “Aladdin,” and “The Lion King,” as well as with Disney Channel shows and merchandise. Most importantly, we are raised on Disneyland, the so-called “Happiest Place on Earth.” I have yet to know someone who has not been to Disneyland before. But because of Disney, we are taught to believe that any dream is possible, that any obstacle is surmountable through perseverance, originality, and audacity. They are not bad aspects (not at all!), but I feel that Disney contradicts itself in some cases, particularly with its princesses.


 

 

 

Don’t get me wrong. I adore Princess Aurora from “Sleeping Beauty.” Although she was naive and a bit ditsy, her carefree nature is reminiscent of our own simple childhood, devoid of responsibility and all about enjoying life. However, I felt that the story, in addition to those of Snow White’s, Belle’s, Ariel’s, Jasmine’s, and Pocahontas’s were passive affairs. Basically, these princesses waited for their princes to come and save them from the rut routine of their lives. They do not choose to take charge. Definitely not one for the feminists.

Also, if you want to get into racial politics, the Disney princesses has been predominately Caucasian. It was not until the introduction of Jasmine in 1992’s “Aladdin” that the company started to diversify with its characters. Yet, some race critics have slammed the images of these characters. Some have blasted the portrayal of Jasmine, who was deemed too “sexualized” as a role model for young girls. Pocahontas has also been criticized for exoticizing Native Americans, with the character wearing so-called “traditional Native American” (but revealing) clothing and doing all of these spirit-calling rituals in the film.

However, with Mulan, you find something different. Although she has not been considered an official Disney princess, her actions and heroism earns her a level of respect, in my book. The film never planned to tell the actual story of Hua Mulan, the legend in the Chinese poem “The Ballad of Mulan.” Like the case with “Pocahontas,” Disney meant to bring light to these different cultures, giving the audiences a glimpse, but certainly not a historical lesson.


 

 

 

 

 

Reception for the character of Mulan has been majorly positive, praising her character as independent and heroic. Instead of waiting for the prince to save her, she saves him, along with their entire kingdom. Simply put, Mulan kicks ass.

 

 

 

 

I remember first watching the movie in theaters, but I didn’t stay for the whole thing, because I was crying for my mom to take us home. I don’t know whether it was the loud, bombastic score or the fighting scenes, but I felt afraid. I was a weird kid.

But as I got older, I watched it again, and in its entirety. The more times that I watched, the more that I appreciated it. My appreciation with “Mulan” evolved in several stages: I appreciated the entertainment value at age eight. I appreciated the cultural aesthetics at age eleven. Finally, I appreciated the feminism/women empowerment issue that the film hoped to portray, at age fourteen. I learned something new from each viewing. It made me question my status as a young, Asian-American female: should I choose to pursue my passion, even if it involves risks and defies tradition? Or should I honor the wishes of my family, who wish nothing but the best for me? There is a cultural clash between these two, and there are nuances to both sides of the debate. What “Mulan” presents to the female audience is choice, which had not been seen in previous works.

All seriousness aside, I enjoyed the entertainment value of the film as well. As a child, you don’t watch a movie for the sake of critiquing it. You watch it because it is fun. Comic reliefs, including Mushu and Mulan’s grandma, are worth a laugh, and the songs are ridiculously catchy (“Someday I’ll/make a man/out of you…”). I have the soundtrack on my iPod. Sometimes I’ll imagine that I’m Lea Salonga and (attempt to) belt out “Reflection” like a bamf. But never successfully.

-The Finicky Cynic

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7 thoughts on “The Power of Choice Represented in Disney’s “Mulan”

  1. Great post on one of my favorite Disney films! I agree that Mulan was the first Disney “princess” to have some real agency – heck, this movie came out when I was in high school and I still found it inspiring!

    Your story about having to leave the theater reminds me of when I injured myself watching “The Little Mermaid” in the theater when I was about 4 years old. When Ursula grew super-huge at the climax of the film, my small self apparently couldn’t handle it and I started screaming and then jumped and apparently wrenched my neck so that I couldn’t move it without being in horrible pain; it took me a week on painkillers to recover, and I wasn’t able to watch TLM again until I was ten or eleven, I was so scared of Ursula! So you are not/were not alone in being upset by random things in Disney movies 🙂

    1. Damn, your childhood film-watching experience sounds horrible! “Wrenching your neck?!” Damn, that sounds like a killer…Haha, but yes! “Mulan” is definitely my favorite Disney classic; I am glad someone else shares the same sentiment! 🙂

  2. Two of my nieces (now almost 13 and 11) were raised on Disney Princesses cartoons, toys, etc. their mom and dad bought for them (or at least Santa gave to them). I imagine they gained through those characters an impression that beauty and grace were important things about being a girl. I do hope, though, they also gained some sort of self-confidence and self-respect through those characters, rather than just messages of beauty and waiting for princes to come. They’ve now graduated to other Disney characters like Mulan, and when they’re not glued to the games on their tablet computers, I hope they’ll still pick up on how independent a character like Mulan can be.

    1. Definitely! Disney princesses are interesting in that, while they promote a sense of positivity in life, their unrealistic beauty standards aren’t the best model for girls. However, with the new batch of Disney princesses (e.g. Elsa and Anna, Merida from “Brave,” even Pocahontas, for that matter), they seem to display more independence and “self respect,” as you called it, even though their beauty dimensions are still unrealistic. It’ll take some time for Disney to produce princesses with reasonable body dimensions (if at all), but giving them the choice not to wait for their princes to come is a start for female empowerment. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Princesses and nieces | Allison M.

  4. Reblogged this on mygardenfoodandotherthings and commented:
    Love this film. I follow the path of meditation and have also studied martial arts thanks to this movie. I haven’t read the whole story but it’s one film all girls irrespective of age should watch as the story has courage and feistiness and being unafraid to break the rules at its core. And the ancestor voiced by Takei George had me in fits of giggles along with Mushu the dragon and the grandma. It’s a film that has principle, duty and doing what’s right as Mulan’s father was old when the mayor came to draft the men to fight.

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