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Notebook: Real-life lessons from 'Mulan'


By Anna Sadovskaya, Senior Arts Editor
Published September 11, 2013

There were so many options to choose from: thrillers, sci-fi classics, new arrivals, a few TV shows … so, I went for the obvious choice and clicked “animated movies” on my Air France-provided touch-screen TV. Moving right past “The Croods,” “Epic” and “Monsters University,” I wildly clicked on “Mulan,” giving the woman in front of me a swift concussion.

Disney is great. Nothing brings on the nostalgia more than old-school Disney fairytale movies. They got some things wrong, but what they managed to do was create a world where “a dream that you wish will come true.” I could not be stopped. A greater force willed me to watch this movie, in my near-delirious state of sleep deprivation. I wanted to believe in a world where a simple Chinese girl could become the greatest warrior in China. I wanted to believe in a world where ancestors and spirits helped their living descendants. I also wanted to sing along to “Reflection.”

There’s no excuse for not watching “Mulan,” but if it’s been a while, the premise is this: Mulan’s father is called to war against the Huns (they’ve simply scaled the Great Wall of China and are on a killing spree), except his knee is weak and he can’t possibly survive, so Mulan, the girl who will never make a perfect bride according to her matchmaker, dons her father’s armor and rides off to take his place.

With a few bumps along the road (she was revealed to be female and almost dies because of how disgraceful it is), Mulan almost single-handedly stops the Huns and saves the Emperor and all of China. The Emperor bows to her. He gives her the sword of Shan Yu, leader of the Hun invasion. A personal medallion, from the Emperor’s neck, is handed to her. If not for any other reason, this is enough to make Mulan the coolest chick and bravest Disney princess ever.

There are plenty of reasons to love the movie: It teaches kids to be fierce, to love selflessly, go after their dreams — to believe that men and women are equal, and girls can do whatever boys can. But after revisiting the Disney classic for the first time in a few years, I realized “Mulan” was incredibly smart for something else: Respect.

From the first time Mulan encounters Li Shang (her eventual love interest and commanding officer), their relationship is established on the grounds of respect and trust. No other Disney princess romance starts this way: Snow White is kissed by a prince she hardly knows, and it’s instant true love. Prince Eric finds a half-naked Ariel, and is what, seduced by her wit? She doesn’t even speak.

Mulan and Li Shang take the entire movie to get to know each other, to build admiration and reliance in each other, and only at the end is a romantic motive even hinted at. They don’t even kiss! But it feels more believable. Not each courtship needs to last as long as war, and not each romance needs to begin so slowly your love interest thinks of you as a dude. But something a little longer than a first glance would be great.

“Mulan” shows the reality of worrying about social pressures, family expectations, gender inequality and the difficulties of climbing a 50-foot pole. She has the guts, the glory and she doesn’t even do anything crazy for “true love” or the “guy of her dreams.”