Note: This is the eighth entry in a series of posts looking at the Kid Friendliness, Entertainment Value, and Life Lessons for Kids from the Disney Princess movies. Previous posts covered “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, “Cinderella”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Aladdin”, and “Pocahontas”
A few weeks ago, The Little Monkey surprised me one evening when she told me that she no longer needed a nightlight. The reason, she wanted to be brave like Mulan. I obliged but fully expected her to start yelling for me to turn on the light the minute I closed the door, but it didn’t happen. She slept through the night, and, while she doesn’t feel like being brave every night, I am thrilled at this development, especially since she had been insisting that her door be kept wide open only a few months ago. So, thanks Mulan.
When the Little Monkey became enamored with Disney Princesses shortly after her second birthday, Yashy and I knew that we would be drawing from the actions of these princesses while teaching her about life. Early on, with limited effectiveness, we would try to curb bad behavior by making her aware of actions that were decidedly not princessly, such as whining or aggressive behavior. Gradually, we have discussed personality traits, such as Anna’s loyalty, Rapunzel’s willingness to try new things, and Cinderella’s ability to look the other way when treated unfairly. Each princess has a number of virtues; perhaps the most well-rounded princess of them all is Mulan, a heroine who makes a sacrifice to protect her father and with her wit, charm, and fearlessness, ends up saving an empire.
“Mulan” contains a more complex storyline than most of the Disney Princess movies. In trying to save her elderly father from going off to war, Mulan proves that gender does not determine what one can accomplish. However, as some feminists critics wisely point out, Mulan needs to pretend to be a boy in order to accomplish her heroic achievements. In a perfect world, she would not have needed to employ this deceptiveness and simply joined the army. However, the film clearly mocks the idea that a female cannot achieve military glory, and Mulan represents an important step forward for the Disney Princesses.
“Mulan” combines a great story with rich character development. Before he stepped in to the Donkey role in Shrek, Eddie Murphy flexed his great vocal talents as Mishu, a small dragon accidently tasked with protecting Mulan as she goes off to battle, where she succeeds despite his occasional poor advice. Mishi, along with a trio of soldiers Mulan meets in the army, add a comic element to the film that makes the movie comparable to Aladdin.
Mulan’s disguise adds suspense throughout the second act of the film as she works to hide her gender from her colleagues, and her ultimate victory is thrilling, as she and the friends whose trust she has earned face off against the Huns, who are bent on taking down the emperor.
Through the music is not particularly memorable, the film’s first single, “Reflection”, is the song that launched Christina Aguilera’s career.
Though this is a film centered on war, with the Huns attempting to seize control of China from the emperor through military force, the film is not that frightening. The Little Monkey has shown some reluctance to watch battle scenes, most notably in “The Lion King” and “Pocahontas”, but she is very charmed by the plight of Mulan. She enjoys seeing Mulan foil the plans of the main villain, Shan Yu, and the film’s comic elements help to set a light tone that appeals to The Little Monkey.“Mulan” was the second last Disney Princess movie she watched, and she now watches it quite frequently, which has included back to back to back viewings over three days.
Life Lessons for Kids
The concept of the female warrior in disguise has been used in a number of Hollywood films, and the Chinese legend of Fa Mulan, upon which “Mulan” is based is likely one of the early uses of this idea. A film like “Mulan” is important in helping society get past the idea that the female needs to be in disguise at all. Mulan proves her bravery while in disguise, and when her identity is revealed, the initial reaction of some of her male counterparts is to shun her, but not all do. Her friends, Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po recognize her superiority as a soldier and follow her plan to save the emperor, even reversing gender roles themselves in dressing up as concubines to gain access to the palace.
When talking to children about this film, we can note that the main characters cross-dress in traditional male and female clothing in order to achieve victory but that they only had to do this, particularly Mulan, because some of these characters don’t understand that girls and boys are equal. Hopefully, in the near future, the gender stereotypes that make it necessary to mock these attitudes in a film like “Mulan” will have disappeared. For now, we know that these stereotypes exist, and so we use “Mulan” as way to show our children that girls can do anything boys can do, and vise versa.
Perhaps the best side effect from The Little Monkey’s viewing of this film is her new penchant for eating whole apples, as Mulan does. She must think eating them will make her brave – and maybe they do.
Mulan is among the lesser known Disney Princess films but was a success at the box office, following the disappointing returns from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Hercules”, proving once again that the princesses have the power. The film would be the last princess movie from Disney’s Renaissance period from 1989 to 1999, which brought us Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, and Mulan. 10 years would pass before a new princess appeared in screen, with Tiana in “The Princess and the Frog”, down in New Orleans, coming next week.