BLOG 4 - MULAN
Disney takes a sledgehammer to the subject of gender stereotyping in Mulan, a film that combines both traditional elements and materials that seem more adventuresome and grown up. Disney’s Mulan is not a retread of a familiar Western children's classic. It was based on a Chinese folk tale about a plucky Chinese teenage girl who disguises herself as a boy to fight the invading Huns. When the invaders sweep down on the Chinese Wall, the Emperor calls up all men to defend the kingdom. Mulan's father is old and feeble, but throws away his crutch to conscript for military service. To spare him, Mulan steals the family sword and secretly goes in his place. The movie both inspires the audiences with positive, important life lessons of bravery and feminism but also potentially ratchets up the violence level for children's animation.
The positive take-away message shown in Mulan is the dominant theme of feminism. This is not a story of a girl wanting to go to a ball in a fancy dress and fall in love with a prince. Neither is it one where the princess waits atop a tower to be awoken by true love's first kiss. Mulan stands out from the line of other Disney princesses as a strong female leader. In Mulan, our heroine takes her fate into her own hands and has her priorities straight – honor and duty to family first. She is both a thinker and a doer. She is resourceful like Aladdin, quick to act like Eric in Mermaid, and sacrifices herself for the sake of others like Hercules. Mulan speaks her mind, even in an oriental culture that does not allow such a thing. Two scenes below are standouts – the first where Mulan decides to run away and take her father's place, cutting off her hair in the process and the second is a snow covered battle against the Huns at a time Mulan rescues the general, Shang. Beautiful music with stirring tunes, such as the ones in “I will make a man out of you” and “Reflection,” and lyrics like in the very first song, “Honor To Us All”: “A girl can bring her family great honor in one way” provides the movie a great way to move the story forward.
"I will make a man out of you"
One potentially negative message within Mulan may be that the movie raises the violence level for children’s animation. Mulan, in fact, has more in common with male Disney leads than the female Disney leads. Rather than aligning herself against the patriarchal celebration of war, violence, and militarism, Mulan becomes a cross-dresser who proves that when it comes to war she can perform as well as any male. By embracing a masculine view of war, she simply becomes one of the boys. Overall, the film portraits a representation of wars, violence, and militarism. By way of disguising as a boy, the movie unintentionally and potentially embraces the theme “violence solves violence.” Concrete media components from the movie are not hard to find but still hard to get to this implicit message, especially for the target audience of the film – children.
All in all, Mulan remains to this day one of the crown jewels of Disney Animation. The perfect combination of story, music, characters and humor makes this not just one of the greatest Disney Classics, but one of the greatest meaningful films, ever. Although there are some violence scenes, the movie still treats major themes of family, feminism, solidarity, and patriotism with greater attention, dignity, and care. Therefore, in the end, positive take-away message substantially outweighs the one small potentially negative one. Since children are the target audience, seeing a movie that shows a loving family, a girl of good character, and the importance of gender indiscrimination is enjoyable and valuable. Mulan is nothing less than a winner because the creators marvelously balanced and treated it with so much reverence.