Back when social media wasn’t the main source of entertainment, there was the television. It was the perfect medium to advertise products and services, from yummy breakfast cereals to boat dealers in Louisiana. There would always be a variety of channels to explore, but Disney Channel has remained one of the most memorable.
Millennials who grew up watching television all day can agree that Disney is a large part of their childhood. It’s the channel that illustrates every child’s fantasy world as it’s filled with different heartwarming stories and exciting adventures. But Disney’s turning point must be its Renaissance decade (1989-1999). Soren Hough, a writer for Roger Ebert, described it as the decade with “non-traditional families, people of color in lead roles, and a general break from the norms of Disney princess storytelling.” The story of Mulan best fits this description.
Mulan gave representation
Disney made an effort to diversify the image of a Disney princess and introduced non-white characters, including Mulan, Jasmine, and Pocahontas. But Mulan stands out because it’s deeply rooted in a country’s culture (China). The story originated from a folk song in the North Wei Dynasty. Despite having many variations of the folk song, the plot has remained the same, and it shows how it transcended and lived on in the succeeding dynasties.
Bringing a piece of Chinese history into Disney is a significant step towards inclusivity. Through Mulan’s character, the animated film teaches kids and even adults about Chinese culture. From the visuals to the development of the story and character, the film is consistent in exhibiting representation.
Mulan is an icon of breaking gender roles.
Mulan also touches on filial piety, a concept of Confucian ethics, which means respect towards one’s parents, elders, and ancestors. In the first parts of the film, Mulan’s character realistically portrays the struggles of a young woman to embody traditional gender roles. But because she honors filial piety, she follows as she is told. Change started to arise when Mulan decided to replace her old, feeble father to serve the country and fight against the Huns, which was successful at some point. This transition shows that Mulan’s character offers a fresh perspective of being a Disney princess, proving that a woman can both honor filial piety and fill in a man’s duty and obligation.
Mulan reveals she is only human.
Despite her bravery, Mulan’s female identity was eventually disclosed after the disastrous yet successful encounter with the Huns. The scene where she was alone and reflecting in the mountains depicts that she’s only human who is struggling to bring honor to her family and, at the same time, finding value in herself. She knew from the start that she doesn’t want to be restrained by societal norms. Becoming a soldier was not just for her father’s sake, but also hers. Mulan is probably the only Disney princess who was able to process her self without being identified with another man.
Given this, Mulan is the best Disney princess because she is an inspiration, especially to children. One’s intellect and capability are not bounded by gender and sexuality. Disney has come a long way in creating more inclusive characters, and hopefully, it doesn’t end here.