Hurray! This week on Michelle’s Disney cheese and whine hour, we have Mulan (1998). Since I’m the slanty-eyed gook in the banner at the top of this blog, you’d be right to guess that this is a Disney film with which I have a particularly strong relationship. I watched this as an impressionable tween when it first came out, and I remember how excited my parents were about it – a mainstream Disney children’s movie with an all-Asian(ish) cast? Adapted from a Chinese folktale? Wonder of wonders!
I rewatched it for this post, expecting to be struck with sexist and racist observations that I didn’t pick up on as a kid, but… no. I actually really enjoyed this film, with very little cringe.
First off: an independent, expectation-flouting female protagonist, who’s intelligent and explicitly raises issues on societal expectations and desirable traits in women, with a motivation that’s not entirely man-hunting. Thanks to my parents, I grew up watching a lot of Chinese/Hong Kong cinema, which has a strong tradition of butt-kicking female characters – Mulan holds her own against them. She wants to prove herself/save her father/do something that suits her and, uncharacteristically for Disney, the romance with Li Shang is an afterthought (in fact, it’s kind of clumsily tacked on). There’s barely any mention of physical appearance in their attraction, but a fair bit on personality and mutual respect. Not to mention that they don’t actually get married or happily-ever-aftered at the end. Right on, Disney!
Another impressive achievement from Disney – it’s a buddy flick. Starring a woman. Paired with a male (albeit a mythical creature). Not another woman. Insanity.
|Also, black and Asian! It’s bloody Rush Hour in here!|
In terms of cultural sensitivity, Mulan really impressed me. Their representation of Chinese culture is surprisingly fair, despite the not-completely-unwarranted drenching of the soundtrack with the word “honour”, and the same dark-and-funny-looking-is-evil that was also apparent in Aladdin. (A female Asian name tops the writing credits, which could help explain why.) It’s not that different from Kung Fu Panda in this regard, which came a full 10 years later.
|Asians spout wise quotable quotes all the time. Fact.|
Even more surprising is their voice cast of Asian actors. As well as George Freaking Takei, there’s James Hong, who manages to appear in pretty much every good thing that needs an old Asian man (Kung Fu Panda, Balls of Fury, Archer, Diablo III). There’s also Eddie Murphy as the inexplicably sassy, wise-cracking black companion in the middle of Imperial China, but it wasn’t exactly easy to find a strong Asian comedic actor in 1998 (and still isn’t).
For my Mulan nails, I chose to do a bold design based on the outfit that Mulan is always in for the Princess marketing, but never seems to wear in the actual movie:
The shades I used were Hello Darling Butter Wouldn’t Melt, Orly Coachella Dweller, L’Oréal Santorini Lagoon, ulta3 Blue Marlin and China Glaze Purrfect Plum.
Check out what the other awesome Aussie ladies did:
9 thoughts on “Disney Princesses Challenge, aka I (only kind of) Hate Disney (this week) Part 3: Mulan”
Have you heard of the Bechdel test?
It basically goes;
1. is there more than one woman in this film?
2. do they talk to each other?
3. is it about a man?
It’s used to identify gender bias in a film, and I only bring it up because I thought it was interesting that you mentioned Mulan’s buddy in this film was a mythical creature. To pass the test, the film needs to answer yes to the first two, and no to the last question.
It obviously has its limitations, but its interesting; especially given the previous Disney films you’ve analysed.
Anyway, I love Mulan – and still refuse to let J kill crickets because they are ‘lucky bugs’. Love the nail design – great job!
Yes I have 🙂 I’m not sure which is rarer though – passing the Bechdel test or having a female protagonist with a male sidekick in an action-ish film/TV show (ummmm… Kim Possible?), whereas the reverse male protagonist with female sidekick is pretty common (Doctor Who, Elementary).
Ooh Veronica Mars!
yay i’m so glad you liked the movie!! mulan is my 2nd favorite of all time disney movie (i wonder if you will do nails for my ultimate favorite, mmm). love the nails, they look just like her outfit!
they do actually get married..in the sequel. but i haven’t seen that
i love mulan!
I love these! Great job and colour combo!