Disney’s 1998 animated film, Mulan, portrays a young women who risks her life by going to war in place of her father by impersonating a male soldier.
From start to finish, Mulan sheds that typical “Disney princess” view that most people have maintained about the protagonists in Disney’s films over the years. She isn't that sweet, damsel in distress type of lady; in fact Mulan takes charge of her own life, risking everything for her father. It also emphasizes the points that not every female is driven by finding her prince in order to be happy and that a woman can be an even better man then an actual man himself.
As Disney fictional heroines go, the proto-feminist Mulan outranks Pocahontas, Belle, and the pathetic Ariel. And she’s light-years ahead of Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, spunkless specimens of yesteryear’s Cold War gender roles. (Who’s Your Heroine? By Mimi Nguyen)
Mimi Nguyen states in her article that Mulan is in complete contrast to previous females in Disney’s films, which can be considered to be true. Mulan earns the title of Heroine all on her own. In this film for taking the bull by the horns; by going to war she rescues all of China, earns the respect of thousands and gets her man...and all while wearing a dress!
Definitely no housewife
Mulan is a smart and vibrant young woman. It is clear that she is happy with her independence, but is still concerned with bringing honor to her family. She doesn’t fit into the typical female role a woman from her background is supposed to be.
After she badly botches her interview with the matchmaker, she accepts the fact that she may not be cut out for the whole housewife gig.“Look at me; I will never pass for a perfect bride. Or a perfect daughter. Can it be, im not meant to play this part?" (Mulan, 1998)
Even though she looks the part, Mulan cannot hide who she is. When she is staring at herself in the mirror, with half of her make up off she is torn by the fact that she may never be who she thinks she is suppose to be.
Many critics have deemed her a tomboy because she does not fit into society’s typical structure of a woman. When she is transformed from her tomboy self into a “perfect porcelain doll”, she is not happy. The argument that can be brought up is that why must a woman who does not fall under what a typical woman “should” be automatically assumed to be a tomboy?
Mulan is who she is in spite of herself,even when she tries to change she cannot. Even though the females watching this film may be cheering “You go girl” the whole time, poor Mulan is suffering the consequences that she will never fit into her gender role. During Mulan's time and even now, women in China are not often valued as much as they should be, and what is a woman is she does not have a husband? An unwed girl will bring dishonor to her family and is to be looked down on by many. This is sadly what Mulan may face.
Mulan is impulsive, disobedient and resolutely vocal in her defiance of the "seen not heard" school of social conventions. She’s a skilled martial artist and an intuitive strategist,a girl of action and intelligence who does the feet-sweeping, butt-kicking and outwitting. (Who’s Your Heroine? By Mimi Nguyen)
Mimi Nguyen comments on some key aspects. Mulan is all of these things and more. Again, heighten the fact that she is not like woman of her time. She is not passive, she is more so aggressive. Since she is unable to attain that “seen not heard” form a woman of her time and culture is suppose to take, she is often criticized and scolded. Something great about Mulan is that she stands up for what she believes in, she doesn’t stand down even when she comes face to face with the dreaded dominant male. The woman in me cheers and praises Mulan for this, however her father does not:
Bringing honor to one's family is a lot for one girl to take on. Mulan, being an only child of a family who had no son's, has taken on the responsibility of bringing the honor that every family desires. Mulan dearly wants’ to make her father proud, which I believe can be said for any female out there. In the end, something we all desire is to make the people we love proud and value ourselves as more then what we are.
"My, what beautiful blossoms we have this year. But look, this one's late. But I'll bet that when it blooms, it will be the most beautiful of all." (Mulan, 1999)
As women mature and become more confident in ourselves and in our abilities is when we truly bloom. This is what it takes for Mulan, to realize that she is worth while and she can accomplish anything.
It is clear, that not just any man could take Mulan as a wife. Girl has spunk, which is more then I can say for many of Disney’s former portrayals of women.
I'll make a man out of you
An important aspect of this film is to show that Mulan is just as good and just as valuable as any boy. Mulan often plays the part of a man better then the actual men themselves. Mulan sheds any type of gender role when she embraces what it is to be a man and heads to war.
The ironic thing about her whole experience in the war is that Mulan is not a man, even though that is what Shang is trying to make out of them.
“Did they send me daughters, when I asked for sons?” (Mulan, 1998) In fact, yes they did. Mulan’s undercover womanhood may be hidden in the film, but the audience is aware she is female.
Throughout the song “Ill make a man out of you”, Mulan struggles with these typical male tasks that she is forced to do. Generally speaking, it is known that physically, women are not equal to men and there is no way that Shang can actually make a man out of Mulan.
However, Mulan throw her physical short comings to the wind and uses her intellect to outshine the men at the boot camp by eventually performing every task better then the men themselves. She holds her own ground in this so called man's world. “Mulan cancels out any rupturing of traditional gender roles. She simply becomes one of the boys.” (Giroux, 103)
Something important I think about this whole sequence is that in the end she gains the respect of these men. How fantastic is that? A woman gaining the respect of hundreds of men all at once! But she gains this respect as a man. Now the really question is, could a women gain this respect all on her own, without the disguise? Can Mulan maintain this respect after she is revealed?
A Girl worth Fighting For
Something interested that s often brought up about Mulan is the song "A Girl worth fighting for". We have all of the men singing and laughing about what kind of women they want.
All the men talk about having a woman who is beautiful, a woman who will be in awe of them. The only time a woman is mentioned without having reference to her looks, it is quickly followed by all that matters about her is that she cooks.
During this song all of the men sing about what a perfect woman would be like: beautiful, caring, and a great good cook. This is reinforcing the idea that women should be mostly homemakers and nothing else. When it comes to Mulan to say what women should be like she says “A girl who speaks her mind?” in which the chorus of men reply “Naw.” (Adam Welker, Mulan - A Feminist Critique )
I do agree with the above statement. I feel that while they are singing, that I should be in the kitchen baking some sort of 3 course meal if I want any type of man to come knocking on my door. I am aware that it is meant to be comical, but come on guys. Not one of you want a woman you could actually carry a conversation with? It’s the kind of scene where a woman would roll her eyes at "typical men". Mulan herself attempt to chime in, but her idea of a girl worth fighting for clearly does not fit in with these guys.
Behind every good woman, lies a trail of men
A scene that sticks out in my mind as a woman is the scene where Mulan is finally revealed. She is pulled out of the tent and told that it is the law, applying that she is now to be killed. Even after she saved all of them from the hun's, as soon as the fact that she had been a woman all this time comes to the surface, it is all negated. Fortunately,her life is speared. But she is left alone. It is hurtful to know that at this time in history, a woman who did all what Mulan had did, could be killed just because she is a woman.
Even when she tries to warn people that the huns are still alive, no one will listen. Mushu brings up the fact that she is a girl and that’s why no one will. I myself feel a lack of self worth during this scene.
However, the fact that she is female does not get Mulan down. The best part of this entire film in my mind is the scene where she convinces her friends to dress in woman clothing to fool the guards.During this scene, "I'll make a Man out of you" plays in the background, completely contradicting its previous scene. It’s an empowering to see a group of men, dressing as women because it’s the only way they can achieve what they have set out to do. The only way they can finish this war, is to be a woman. If that doesn’t scream girl power, I don’t know what does!
Mulan saves all of China, and she does it as a woman, which I see an majorly important. If she was to have saved China still disguised as a man I feel as though it wouldn’t nearly have the same effect. And to answer my question above, yes she does gain the respect she deserves as a woman and is even offered a placed working with the emperor. She turns it down however and decides to return home.
The emperor informs Shang that "You don’t meet a girl like that every dynasty" (Mulan, 1998), and he realizes that yes, Mulan is in fact a girl worth fighting for and not because she is some meek little thing who submits herself entirely to a man, but because she is exactly the way she is.
I don't need a man...but who says I can't have one anyways
When Mulan starts to fall for Shang, we see her typical, softer female side coming out. She is often criticized for this. Many feminist critique dislike the fact that Mulan has been so strong and independent, only to fall for a man. Okay, sure, but Mulan never looses her independence. She doesn’t stick around after the war for Shang, she returns home.
But for all her independence, in the end the film is, as the film critic Janet Maslin points out, “still enough of a fairy to need Mr. Right.” Mulan maybe an independent, strong willed young woman, but ultimate payoff for her bravery comes in the form of catching the handsome son of a general. (Giroux,102)
I don't really get the critique of this whole ordeal anyways. I mean, so what if Mulan does nab her man in the end. I personally think she deserves it. In order to be independent woman are we suppose to be one our own? Are we not supposed to fall in love and have someone standing at our side? Giroux is essentially saying that the only payoff she receives is a man. What about saving her country? What about the honor she brings to her family? Are these not payoffs? Essentially, the statement is negating everything Mulan has done and putting her right up there with Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, who needed a man in the end to break their evil curses. Sorry, but I believe Mulan would have been just fine without Shang. Did she fall apart when she left him, did he even cross her mind when she returned home? Im sure at some point he would have, but I don’t think she needed him the way the statement above makes it seem like she did.
“Disney reminds us at the conclusion of the film that Mulan is still just agirl in search of a man” (Giroux, 102) I would like to point out that he chases her and not the other way around. Mulan in noway shape or form searched for a man. He comes to her all nervous and excited to see her, making excuses for why he is there. Shang totally takes on the girl role at this point, and Mulan simply asks him to say for dinner. There is no epic proposal of marriage or passionate kiss. Just dinner. It is honestly left ambiguous as to if they even get together in the end. I don't believe everything Mulan has accomplished is completely negated just because Shang appears at her doorstep. Nor do I believe that Mulan will become at all submissive, I mean come on, she certainly has proved that she isn’t that at all throughout the whole film.
In Mulan, the romance is entirely unimportant.It’s a subplot and isn’t brought to the forefront until the very end. As opposed to other princess films where it is front and center.
As for the "she should have brought home the man" (Mulan, 1998) and "sign me up for the next war" (Mulan,1998) her grandmother states; its just funny, nothing to get all riled up about!
In the end, Mulan's father tells her that, "the greatest gift and honor, is having you for a daughter". (Mulan, 1998)
In my opinion, Mulan is a great role model for women out there. She saves her country, has the respect of thousands,brings honor to her family and is happy in the end with the man of her dreams. What’s so wrong with all of that? I personally love this film and I think it is one of Disney’s best.
Walt Disney Pictures (Producer), & Bancroft, T. (Director). (1998), Mulan (Motion Picture). United States: Disney
Giroux, Henry A. "Children's Culture and Disney's Animated Film," in The Mouse that Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence. Lanham, Maryland: Roman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 1999, 83-121
Mimi Nguyen, (2010). Pop Politics: Who's your Heroine. Retrieved from http://www.poppolitics.com/archives/2001/01/Whos-Your-Heroine
Adam Welker, (2010). Mulan - A Feminist Critique. Retrieved from http://disneyinadifferentlight.blogspot.com/2007/12/mulan-feminist-critique.html