Inspired by an ancient Chinese poem, and paying homage to an extraordinary and courageous heroine, Mulan, the ninth jewel in the Disney Renaissance Era, brings to life the story of a young woman who defies the expectations of her people and saves China from impending doom.
Throughout her journey, Mulan’s identity changes significantly several times, but it is only when she has come full circle and learned the true significance of honor and her own heart that she discovers the essence of her identity. Initially her character is established with the expectation that she is to be the obedient daughter and find a husband. The integrity of this identity is challenged when Mulan fails to impress the matchmaker and mourns that she will never live up to her family’s expectations.
When the Hun’s invade China, Mulan’s identity shifts when she disguises herself as a soldier and rides to war in her father’s place. Her original motive was to save her father, but her ultimate goal was achieved when she recognized the strength and honor reflected in her own heart, and saved her people. Ironically, while Mulan’s purpose was technically achieved when the other soldiers discovered she was a woman, this is not how she restores her family’s honor. She decided to finish what she started. This makes her honorable.
A third representation of Mulan’s identity, which is both positive and negative, is Mulan’s identity as a woman. The army thought it was the ultimate form of dishonor for a woman to fight in a war – a task meant only for men. Mulan not only rises to become one of the strongest soldiers in the regiment, proving that a woman can be the equal of a man, but also proves herself to be a worthy leader in her own right.
Honor is a significant theme in Mulan, and is represented in three distinct ways. When Mulan’s character is first established, honor is defined by Mulan fulfilling her duty as a daughter and a woman by impressing the matchmaker. This act will bring her family honor and gain Mulan a husband to protect her, as well as children to carry on the family name. When Mulan saves China and defeats Shan Yu, the power-hungry antagonist, she brings honor to herself and to her family by allowing her courage and determination to gain equal standing with men. Ultimately, when Mulan returns to her father with her family’s honor restored, Mulan’s father acknowledges that the greatest honor is not achieved through following tradition, but by having Mulan as his daughter.
Mulan is unique among Disney female protagonists because, while she is not technically considered a “princess” through heritage or marriage as is true with other Disney heroines, her extraordinary courage, unwavering determination and strong heart make her worthy of the title. Mulan’s romance with General Shang also differs from that of other Disney heroines. While the attraction is conveyed by both Mulan and Shang, their relationship is initially rooted more in friendship rather than romance, with the respect and admiration on both sides increasing as they journey deeper into danger. Throughout the film, there are many illustrations which compare Mulan to symbolic examples of strength and beauty (albeit in subtle undertones). One example that stands out comes when the emperor tells Mulan, “A flower that blooms in adversity is the most beautiful of all”. While Mulan is physically beautiful, the emperor’s words reflect not her beauty, but the unique strength which is reflected in her character when she demonstrates that she is worthy of honor.
Mulan is one of Disney’s most unique animated films. Because the film is inspired by true events and not a fairy tale, one can gain a new respect for the courage and strength which resonates from the leading heroine. The stunning watercolor animation creates a soft and elegant impression for the audience to enjoy, and the humor and vibrant personalities of the characters bring them to life in a way that only Disney can.