Messages in Mulan
The problematic messages in Mulan about gender discrimination are more dominant than the positive messages. This was a difficult conclusion for me to accept due to the fact that Mulan is my favorite Disney film. The primary positive themes are perseverance and bringing honor to one’s family. The negative messages consist of gender roles and lying. Upon final review of this film it is evident that the negative critiques out weigh the positives. This film was produced in 1998 and is based off of a Chinese folk tale about a peasant girl who takes her father’s spot in the Emperor’s army. In the story we see Mulan evolve as a person and ultimately bring honor to her family. This positive message is easy to catch. However, the dominant message is that there was clear gender discrimination. The message of gender roles, as well as the fact that Mulan gained her success through a lie is the reason why the negatives in this film out weigh the positives. On a brighter note, the messages in this film are heavily presented in the soundtrack, which makes the story more enjoyable. I will break down two major songs and relate them to the messages in this movie.
Within the first seven minutes of the film we immediately hear the idea of an ideal bride and the role of women in society. Elderly women begin preparing Mulan to be reviewed by the master matchmaker. This matchmaker grades Mulan on her ability to become a future wife and to bring honor to her family. During the preparations Mulan’s mother, grandmother, and other elderly women rejoice in song. “There are many instances where sound is the most economical and precise way of conveying information in film” (Giannetti, 235). This quote from Understanding Movies hold true for this first song in the film. The women sing, “Men want girls with good taste, calm, obedient, who work fast paced. With good breeding, and a tiny waist, you’ll bring honor to us all” (Mulan Bancroft). The message of different roles in society due to genders is so obvious it is cliché.
In this particular scene we see positive messages of honor. However, it is more obvious that there was gender discrimination going on at the time of the Han Dynasty in China. While it is admiral that the women strive to bring honor to their families, it comes at the cost of them having to almost dehumanize themselves. The women seem to have mask on due to their heavy amounts of makeup. Their faces are covered in white. Psychologist Bourn defines what white means here, “White, an inherently positive color, is associated with purity, virginity, and innocence” (Jennifer Bourn 2). The women attempt to lose their human characteristics in order to become symbols of purity and innocence.
We also get a clear gender role distinction with the children playing in the street. The young boys are play sword fighting and the little girl is playing with a baby doll. During this exact moment the lyrics to the song ring through our ears, “We all must serve our Emperor, who guards us from the Huns. A man by bearing arms, a girl by bearing sons” (Mulan Bancroft). Another quote from Understanding Movies ties in nicely,
“When merged with lyrics, music acquires a more concrete content because words, of course, have specific references. Both words and music convey meanings” (Giannetti 213).
The lyrics directly tell us the message of the film. When the actions in the film and the words in the song complement each other so perfectly it adds believability to the film, therefore incorporating logos. It also brings emotions to the viewers by hearing such a catchy song, which relates to pathos.
In the middle of the film Mulan is undercover as a male soldier. Her and her collogues train under their general and they weren’t performing well. It is here that my all-time favorite Disney song is featured. The positive message of perseverance is evident because Mulan pushes herself and meets her goal of climbing to the top of the pole and retrieving the arrow. Movie critic William Duong offers this quote based on this specific song and scene,
“Men should be swift, forceful, strong, muscular and tenacious. Mulan adds intelligence and ingenuity to the mix when climbing the pole to retrieve the general’s arrow, using the weights of discipline and strength” (Duong 4).
While the positive message is obvious to spot, it is important to remember that Mulan is under a lie this entire time. She is pretending to be her father. This again brings up the fact that if Mulan were in fact herself, she wouldn’t be allowed to join the army due to her gender. This is more proof that under closer investigation, the negative messages in this film out weigh the positives.
These two songs present the positive and negative messages in a direct way. The film presents its messages in an effectivly by using the soundtrack. One may argue that lines in these songs are too direct. However, one must keep in mind that this film’s target market is a child. Therefore the messages must be direct in order to be understood. Upon first viewing the film it is clear that Mulan teaches us about honor and perseverance. However one must step back and realize Mulan’s actions are based around a lie. You must also realize that this lie is only necessary because there was serious gender discrimination at the time. If there was no lie, and if there was no gender discrimination there would be no story of honor and perseverance to tell. For these reasons I give Mulan three slurpees.