So let’s talk about Mulan. I know it’s another Disney movie and that pretty much all of my movies have been family movies so far. This will change for at least the next couple of weeks, but for this week we get another Disney movie. We have kids and we happen to like kid’s movies too that’s just the way it goes.
There is a lot of talk lately about how movies that have a woman lead have been subverting the typical Disney formula. It’s at least something I heard in the buzz surrounding Frozen, but I’ve also heard it with Tangled and Brave only I have yet to see those movies. In some ways though one of the first to do this was Mulan when it was released in 1998.
Mulan does not fit the Disney “princess” archetype. In part the whole story focuses around this fact. Mulan feels like a disgrace to her family because she is not the ideal bride. Her meeting with a matchmaker to help her gain a suitor is a disaster. She is outspoken, intelligent, and sometimes a bit clumsy which is not valued in her society. This causes her to feel like a disgrace to the family and a disappointment to her mother and father.
So when the Huns invade and a conscription order goes out, Mulan pretends to be a man to replace her father who is badly injured. It is through her time with the army that her intelligence and bravery help her the most, when she isn’t being misguided by Mushu, a former family guardian “sent” to help her. So it is mostly these traits that we see in the movie. Even when the inevitable outing of her true identity comes to light she is still able to help save the day.
Now you might say that other women leads before Mulan were smart, outspoken or brave. I would agree, but there is just something a bit different about Mulan. Perhaps it is that while there is a romantic interest that does develop, that is not central to the plot. The plot is more focused on Mulan’s attempt to be a man and preparing to protect China against the Huns. This really isn’t the case in other stories from the time like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and Pocahontas. The romantic relationship is either central to the plot or given equal share with the other events that are transpiring.
Mulan might even be better in terms of having a strong heroine, because it never felt that Mulan had to poke fun at earlier titles in order to do so. While yes it is still a Disney movie and has its silly moments, I’d still place Mulan as one of the strongest female leads of the Disney movies I’ve watched. I mean she does the most when it comes to stopping the Huns of anyone and even takes out the main villain herself.
Some like to make the argument that Mulan has to get over being a woman and be like a man in order to be strong, but I don’t really see that. Mulan was hiding her gender for certain, but she is able to retain her feminine side and kick butt both before and after her true identity was discovered. It is ultimately Mulan who is strong and not simply a result of her pretending to not be a woman.
Most of what I’ve said is positive. That’s not to say there weren’t aspects of Mulan that I felt weren’t quite as good. Overall the music was somewhat lacking, which is okay, but tends to be something that really defines a Disney animated feature to me. Overall, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” is easily the strongest and most memorable song in the movie. It is also an incredibly ironic song considering the main plot. However, other than that the songs aren’t terribly memorable. “Reflection” would probably be my next favorite, but “Honor to Us All” and “Girl Worth Fighting For” while fitting just aren’t on par with some of Disney’s other movies.
I also have mixed feelings on Mushu. I get that he’s the comic relief, but I found him annoying at times. I think that is because so much of his motivation is so self-centered that it grates after awhile. He does have his funny moments, and comes through in the end, but I didn’t find him as likable as some of the other comic reliefs in Disney movies. I did enjoy the cricket though, he was pretty funny.
Overall though I thought Mulan was an enjoyable movie. It is a movie that produces a strong female lead and an enjoyable, but fairly simple, plot. It does lack on the music front and the comic relief can be a bit annoying, but I found Mulan worthy to sit among some of the best Disney movies before and after it.