As I’ve previously written in the first installment of this series-long ‘editorial’ (if you will), the following posts are created to air out more or less, ‘adult’ grievances and flush out underlying (as well as obvious) themes that I’ve found while watching these childhood movies over again.
*Please Note: I do not ‘blame’ Disney for any of my findings, as these are films based on very old fairy tales, however, as Disney animated them I will continue to say ‘Disney’ as a reference. **Also, not all cartoons animations of childhood fairy tales were the brain child of Disney, so I will attribute the production companies accordingly.*
This month’s installment includes my head-scratching questions and off-the-wall theories about Disney’s retelling of the Chinese legend Mulan.
Mulan, Mulan, Mulan. In case you didn’t know, Mulan is actually based on an old Chinese fable of a young woman who left home and went to war for as long as ten years (some say) in her father and young brother’s place. When the war was over, she came home and was awarded by the emperor and decided to go back to life as a woman. Her brother was now of age and so she gave him her warrior outfit and when her old compadres came by the house to see her, they were so shocked that she was a girl!
I mean the amount of things that can be said about this movie, really: it had one of the best singles ever with “Reflections,” it was the first “ethnic” character we’d seen in a Disney movie since Aladdin, and it was all about a female lead who didn’t have a curse, a hex, fairy dust or magic. She was a normal girl with a dragon-lizard and a lucky cricket.
This film had a bit of everything — action, drama, and a bit of romance, though it was heavily understated. There was even some tough moments too, when the leader of the Mongols decided to “return the doll” to the little girl his creepy hawk snatched it from and ultimately killed her.
Now, while I really liked this film, one of the many things that bugged me was the official drafting of Mulan’s crippled dad. I mean, the man looked like he was a vet from Vietnam and they still tried to draft his ass. Are you kidding me? What is a soldier with a bumb knee going to do for your country except die and possibly take a few others with him? The most he could do is trip a few people with his cane, but protect a country? Really?
Then, I wasn’t too happy with Mulan’s dad. One moment he’s telling her that she’s going to blossom when she’s ready, then he’s shushing her like a damn dog when she’s trying to look out for his crippled behind. This is why young girls grow up confused by men: you can’t be all “you’re a treasure” one moment and “shut up,” the next. He could’ve politely told her to be quiet until Chi-Fu left, he didn’t have to get all nasty with her.
Next you had the meddling grandmom who is all about “bring a man home, bring a man home.” Is that what Asian grandmothers are like, really? Old, blind and man hungry? And speaking of blind…
Did anyone notice how grandmom screwed up traffic in the marketplace with her non-seeing behind? Was that a nod to the stereotype that Asians can’t drive there, Disney? MMHHMM… thought you were SLICK!
And speaking of stereotypes, the fact that Mulan had to make a cheat-sheet on her wrists is PROOF that all Asians are NOT photographic-memory-having braniacs. Some are just as lazy as the rest of us.
OH- and I got another question. Please don’t think me gross for thinking this, but did anyone else wonder what Mulan did when she got her period? Yes, I KNOW, it’s a kid’s movie and what have you, but that doesn’t negate the fact that Mulan was a WOMAN. And unless she was a prepubescent ten-year-old girl (which she wasn’t because she had to bandage her boobies), she was seeing her period. Especially if she was of marrying age. I wonder, how did she hide when it was that time of the month? I can see her fighting through the cramps, but she must’ve been making one hell of a leaf pad with some rice patties or something for them heavy days boy, I tell you.
Also, did you notice that she’s probably the first Disney female lead who didn’t kiss her man at the end? Instead she invites him for dinner with her parents, which either means that Chinese people have a no-fraternization policy or they’re just plain ol’ prudes.
NOW, I’m going to say something. If you understand where I’m going, please, continue to follow me, but if you don’t, you can throw it back in my direction and leave it alone. Okay, so was it me, or was there some homo-eroticism going on in this film? Here me out:
Mulan joins the military under the guise of ‘Ping,’ and is trying all that she can to make sure that she’s seen as a rough-and-tough man. The leader, Shang, watches ‘Ping’ (Mulan) closely and becomes increasingly impressed as he learns his way around the camp. A couple times you see some glances here and there that aren’t necessarily “comrade” glances, if you catch my drift. Then, you have to think: these men are traveling for days, weeks, months, even years on end without the tender caress of a woman to ease their loneliness. How exactly do they well…”release that tension?”
Okay, yes, they sing that whole “A Girl Worth Fighting For,” song as their inspiration to keep fighting, but lets face it, I don’t think all of them were into girls. I mean living in a time where societal pressures are everything the army could be a welcoming place to be among other men and well, express yourself without expressing yourself. I mean, there was the scene with the guys skinny-dipping in the pond when Mulan was trying to sneak a bath, and then there was Chi-Fu, the effeminate Imperial consul who everyone claimed was only ‘loved by his mother.’ Now I know you may think I’m reaching, but I’m just saying… some of that wasn’t all too Kosher for me. Especially since Shang gets with Mulan at the end which makes you think AGAIN — was he attracted to her when she was a MAN? *dum, Dum DUM!*
And so we’re onto to the educational part of this lecture:
Theme One: Not All Asians Look Alike!
Finally, the myth has been debunked! All Asians do NOT look alike. Thanks to this wonderful film, we’ve learned that there are short stocky Asians, tall fat Asians, skinny awkward Asians, creepy-looking crazy Asians and hot sexy buff Asians. So the next time you think to call two Asian identical, think back to this movie and the variety of Asians that it provided for you!
Theme Two: Awkward Daughters Are the Spice of Life
Let’s face it, Mulan was all kinds of awkward and a complete stand out. She was like… an Asian Belle, from Beauty and the Beast, minus all the genius and what have you. Even the matchmaker thought that she was a lost cause and that no man would want a girl who was so… hopelessly hopeless. But, her awkwardness did prove to help her in the end – she was able to convince an army of Asian guys that she was a man just like them (due to her obvious lack of femininity) and she finally found where she belonged among the ass-kicking kung fu/kendo stick-fighting men and not with all the other girls who painted their face in hopes of a man to knocking ’em up and taking ’em away from home. Not only that, but she brought honor to her family, was respected by an emperor, loved by a country AND snagged a man! Awkward girls of the world, it’s never too late for happiness!! *snaps, snap, snap*
Theme Three: Drag Isn’t JUST For RuPaul
So, I think I’m going to pick out the giant three-legged purple dragon in the room and discuss probably the biggest underlying theme in this movie: drag. Yes squirrel friends!! Drag played an important role in this movie (and legend) whether you conservative homophobes like it or not, cause let’s face it, Mulan must become a ‘male-impersonator’ in order to complete her task of taking her dad’s place in the army. Now, as many parents and relatives of those who bend gender, it was not something well received. I mean her own ancestors had something to say about it:
“No! Your great-granddaughter had to be a cross-dresser!”
But nonetheless, cross dressing got the job done. Not only did it give Mulan a boost of self-esteem being able to channel her inner man and protect her country with bravado, it also freed her of the social constructs that come along with being a woman. And inversely, when Chien Po, Yao and Ling got into drag…oooh GIRL were they working it?
Understandably, they weren’t the most attractive queens (though they were better than some of the queens on this last season of Drag Race), they had to channel their inner “diva” in order to outsmart the evil do’ers with their ‘feminine wilds’ while Mulan got all Xena: Warrior Princess on the bad guy. In this instance, there’s actually an argument for Drag saving the day. And the fact that it’s in a children’s movie says that maybe we all shouldn’t be so damn hung-up on this alternative lifestyle. There may actually be some good too it – and if you don’t believe me, try watching an episode of RuPaul’s Drag U! (And yes, I am a fan).
Theme Four: Self Defense Is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY
Whether you are a girl or boy, in drag or out of it, this movie proved one thing: self-defense is necessary! When the Huns came and burned down those cities, you know how they accomplished it? Because people didn’t know how to defend themselves. I felt it for that little girl that we never saw, but whose doll we kept seeing. Maybe if her parents took her to Tiger Schulmann’s she could’ve made it out alive, but nope. Didn’t happen. Also, look at Mulan. If she didn’t learn hot to fight, you think doing girly-limp-wrist slap fights was going to keep her alive? No way.
I always tend to feel like taking martial arts lessons when I watch action flicks and this one was no different. Self-defense is key, whether you’re saving a country or saving yourself from an unwanted one-on-one attack. Because lets face it, not everyone can walk around with pepper spray.
Theme Five: Firecrackers Are Really Dangerous
I remember growing up and being told all the time not to play with firecrackers, even when I didn’t have access to them whatsoever. If this movie did anything, if probably put little kids off of playing with fire crackers for LIFE.
Theme Six: Women CAN WIN WARS
I personally think that women can probably win wars better than men because: (1)smaller frames equal more dexterity. Because our body mass is smaller, we can accomplish tasks that require us to get in and out of places unnoticed and we’re (generally) lighter which makes for better speed aerodynamically (2) We got boobs which make for great distraction (as seen by the drag show in the film) and infiltration into enemy lines and (3) we’re so underestimated it’s a shame. Khan (the bad guy) didn’t know Mulan was the one who destroyed his army until the very end and even then he still underestimated her. And guess what? She whopped that ass. *Slap, Slap.*
and last but not least…
Theme Seven: It’s Always Good to Be Yourself
Let’s face it. If Mulan wasn’t who she truly was, and made herself out to be this extremely prissified man-hungry “proper” Asian girl, she would’ve thought twice about risking her life to save her father’s. Because Mulan was a bit awkward, and very passionate, she took the care of her father to heart and did what had to be done to save her father from certain death. And that meant dressing up like a man, and fooling a really hot guy and his army, then so be it. And though her crossing-dressing ways were frowned upon and got her into trouble (with her nearly losing her life because of it, like many cross-dressers of the present day), she was brave, strong and brought honor to her family. She was nothing but herself, determined and true and it worked for her. It saved lives and landed her a man. So remember to be yourself and you’ll get through it. Mulan did. Yes, in her own little drag way.