Mulan, often hailed as the more feminist of the Disney princesses, certainly has some problems. While I primarily agree with the sentiment that Mulan is empowered and a bad ass, let’s not forget that the film opens with a number that places Mulan’s only value in her ability to find and keep a husband. “Girl” is regularly used as an insult in this film, and the song “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You,” while catchy, is certainly enforcing gender expectations. While gender norms are oppressive towards women, they are oppressive towards men as well. The need to be tough and physically fit can be quite the burden on our men.
Another cool thing about Mulan is she sheds all preconceived notions of a princess. She is articulate, loves being educated, strong willed, and disobedient. It’s refreshing after watching white disney princess films.
The representation of the Chinese race is problematic in this film and is manifested in a few characters. Chi Fu, the advisor sent with Shang and Mulan to defeat the Huns, is a nasty caricature of Chinese stereotypes. His accent is heavy, his animation is tacky, his voice actor is putting on airs, and his is highly sissified and used for comedic relief against the dark tones of the film. Another character that is problematic the is Emperor of China himself. While he is meant to be portrayed as a fair and trustworthy ruler, he spouts “words of wisdom” that you would see printed on placemats at a Chinese restaurant in downtown Lansing.
My favorite part of the film, though, is during the number “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You” and Mulan kicks the butt of every male soldier.
This is a cute video created by YouTube user AVByte that criticizes Disney’s princess stereotype. The princesses featured in the video (Jasmine, Ariel, Aurora, Cinderella, Snow White, Belle) are lectured by Queen Elsa on their refusal to critically think about their story lines. Princesses such as Pocahontas, Mulan, and Merida are omitted, perhaps because their story line does not revolve around finding love but on other factors and AVByte’s criticism might not have held up.
This video exposes many of the problems that are prevalent within the older princess films. While progress has been made with films such as Frozen and Brave, old princess tropes are still prevalent and surround our young girls. Even though Snow White and Cinderella are older films, I grew up watching them and even though I am now in my twenties I still see young girls enjoying them. The presence of criticism such as this cutesy YouTube clip is uplifting, however, because videos such as this can spur discussion among mothers and their daughters about what being a girl and a woman means. And even newer Disney princess films such Tangled fall under this trope, with Rapunzel being saved from Mother Gothel by Flynn Rider and never given the chance to grow outside of someone else.
Girls need to recognize that they need to develop as themselves first, then worry about falling in love. Love is an incredible human emotion and should be experienced by everyone one way or another, either between siblings such as in Frozen, family such as in Brave, between friends, or between those in a consensual relationship. Dialogue such as this video needs to exist to bring light to the fact that men are not the be all and end all. While these older stories may center around the woman character, the real story is about finding and keeping a man. So are the stereotypical Disney princess movies really about women? ‘Cause it really seems to revolve around men.