Mulan’s Choice

            Every tween girl should watch this movie. I know it may sound odd, but the underlying message of this movie applies most to them. Mulan’s struggle is in finding a balance between who her culture demands she be and who she herself wants to be. She has to choose: will she honor her culture, or be true to herself? Or, more blatantly: what is more important, being who others expect you to be, or who you believe yourself to be? Rarely do these two issues line up. Peer conceptions shape teen girls; their actions reflect more of what they think is expected of them than what they hold true for themselves.
            Mulan’s confrontation with her father makes her decision to go in his place. He says, “I will die for what is right,” and then ends their argument by telling her it is time she learn her place. Mulan then must choose if she will possibly die for what is right or if she will honor her father’s wishes, be untrue to herself and conform to societal standards. She chooses, in the most moving and artistic sequence in the film, to break out of the box she’s been placed in and do what she knows is right.
            The directors and animators discuss (in the special features, of course) how they purposefully, artistically ‘boxed’ her in during that sequence. She’s framed by the statue she’s sitting in, the puddle she sees her reflection in; even her hair frames her in. Simply deciding to go breaks down one wall of her box. When she walks into the house and cuts her hair, she takes off one side of the box. When she changes from a dress into armor, another side falls. When she goes through the gates of her family’s home, heading to war, the final side falls.
            When I was in high school, we watched this film during our unit on China. The interesting aspect of this is that our assignment was to document how historically inaccurate the film is, as ancient Chinese culture would kill a woman for impersonating a soldier. What I learned just yesterday, while watching the special features, is that Mulan is not a Disney original story. They took the store and developed it, changing it to fit cinematically in the time constraints of less than two hours, from an actual Chinese legend. A story that says a woman entered the Imperial Army in order to protect her father.
            Like all orally spread legends, there are many different versions. The one I will use is the one an animator specified as opposed to the traditional “Ballad of Mulan,” a poem that uses more poetic devices to convey meaning then literal summary. What Disney changed is that the real Hua Mu Lan, from the legend, discussed taking her father’s place with her father. They actually had a sword fight to see who should go; she won. Unlike in the film, she wasn’t discovered. She fought for ten years without being revealed. When she was honored by the Emperor, she turned down his offer of being in his cabinet in order to go home, much like Disney’s version of Mulan. After a ten year absence, she returned to her family. It was only after she returned home and her fellow soldiers came looking for their “brother in arms” that they discovered she was a woman.
            In another version of the legend, she is discovered after 12 years and a promotion to General when she is injured and a young girl wants to marry her. When she reveals she is a woman, she and her male army friend, Jing, confess their love for one another. He dies saving her in battle, and she resigns her post and goes home. In the Ballad of Mulan, her family knows she is going, celebrates her return, and she notes that only society puts gender restraints on people and nature doesn’t.
Personally, I enjoy both the film and the legend. I find it interesting Western cultures rarely hear of this legend, and instead only hear gender roles in the negative form; how China oppressed women and expected them to be seen and not heard (as evidenced by the matchmaker’s dislike with Mulan in the film). I am partial to the music of the film, particularly during Mulan’s transformation scene. That sequence is what stays with me (though it’s Shang’s song about training that inevitably gets stuck in my head for days on end). The music and lyrics are wonderful, old-time Disney awesome. Jackie Chan provided the voice for Shang in the Chinese release and the special features include a music video of him singing the training song. I had no idea he could sing, but apparently he went to opera school in China and can sing in many Chinese and Asian dialects. That man never ceases to stop amazing me.
            Eddie Murphy provides the comedic relief as a tiny dragon named Mushu. His character is the only talking animal, though he can understand Cricky, the lucky cricket. Although he mainly handles the jokes, sometimes they’re too much and distract from the movie. Conversely, he is the catalyst for the Hun charge from which Mulan is declared a hero and is discovered due to her injury.
            While I love Mulan for being brave enough to do what is right, even when everyone in her world is telling her to conform, she isn’t my favorite character. I love how she becomes the best soldier, despite being the smallest and most likely the weakest at the beginning of training. She has to use her brain and physical prowess to be successful, which I find particularly important. Shang isn’t my favorite character either, despite his awesome song and cunning teaching skills. Nor is the riddle-speaking Emperor my favorite. Well, who is? Khan! What, you don’t remember him? Here’s a picture (copyright of Disney, 1998, of course):

Isn’t he cute? Really, he’s just the best. The scariest part of the movie is when he, Mulan and Shang fall over the edge of the cliff during the avalanche. I don’t know how that rope could hold three people and a horse, or how Mulan tied the Khan all the way round while falling, but whew am I glad he didn’t die! I just don’t think I could watch the movie anymore if he did. Actually, the only character-death we see is that of Shang’s father, General something-or-other. Which is sad, yes. But we only saw him once. I’m much more affected by the death of the little girl that the doll belonged to. Her death, despite the fact we never see her, is that it is implied that the entire town died. This, ironically, makes Mulan have the highest death count of the Disney films. I don’t believe an entire village is wiped out in any other Disney films. Of course, this is also the only film in which Disney portrays open warfare, so that sets it in a whole new category.

            I’ve always loved Mulan, despite its plot holes and historical follies. Disney tells an interesting story in a beautiful way; if you think about it, that makes every film they make special. If there’s one thing Disney is good at, it’s telling a great story with style (excluding, of course, Home on the Range; we’ll just pretend that one never happened).
           What’s going on in Alaska? Well, it’s March and there’s still snow falling. We’ve had record breaking snowfalls (currently, Anchorage has the fourth most snow ever). So much so that the moose population is seriously hurting. This winter has also been much, much colder. The combination of more cold days and more snow has made it incredibly difficult for moose to find food. So far, 441 moose have been killed just on Mat-Su roads since July 1. Last year, less than 200 total were killed all year (July to July). That means 441 motorists have collided with a moose since July. The death toll for moose in general is higher but unknown; many moose are starving to death because they can’t find food. The spring moose hunt is cancelled. Groups have received permission to put out hay bales far away from roads to lure moose away from the roadways causing their death. It is very sad and very depressing, and it makes me quite thankful to have this Disney project to keep my spirits up. Now that you’re sad, go watch Mulan. Eddie Murphy will try to make you laugh, but Khan the horse will succeed.

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