Disney’s decision of also create the live action version of Mulan it shouldn’t have surprised us so much, unlike the decision to put the film on Disney +, setting an unexpected precedent. The protagonist of the 36th classic remains one of the most important, significant and revolutionary female characters that the House of Mickey Mouse has ever given birth. Of course, the oriental market for today’s cinema is increasingly important, and making this live action (at least according to the statements) much more faithful to the original legend, as well as much more similar to the wuxia genre, is not accidental.
But Mulan is one of the most famous warrior girls in history, and for an entire generation of viewers she was more than a Disney Princess. It meant for the first time seeing a female lead in a weighty role and in a totally different light.
The girl who became a warrior
The Ballad of Mulan, written for the first time probably in the 6th century, is connected to a particularly complicated historical era for China, when the borders were threatened by the nomadic tribes of the north, by populations such as the Rouran or the Huns, nemesis chosen by the writers in the 1998 film.
The Great Wall was crossed in several places, and the dynasties of the kingdoms of Northern China had their work cut out in trying to stop these invasions.
Legend has it, however, that for twelve years some of the greatest victories against the invaders were achieved by a mysterious general, stubbornly bachelor and who appeared as thin as he was determined on the battlefield.
We are of course talking about Mulan, who in disguise quickly rose through the ranks of the Northern Wei army, the Kingdom most exposed to attack. Of course, no one knew (until the war was over) that she was a woman.
The stratagem was devised by the young Mulan to save the life of his father and younger brother (who did not appear in the Disney classic). The father was an esteemed warrior partially disabled by wounds from past wars, and the younger brother was still a child.
Unlike the Disney cartoon, the father, though reluctant, gave his consent to the deception, since it was important to uphold the honor of the family and serve the Kingdom.
Film and legend were absolutely aligned in describing courage, contempt of danger, Mulan’s indomitable spirit and wit, able to withstand the tough training of the imperial army and to profitably use intelligence where muscles were not enough.
A rebellious spirit
The Mulan of the Disney classic was already a rebellious spirit well before the invasion of the Huns catapulted it into the midst of the imperial army.
As shown at the beginning of the film, he had no intention of “holding up the honor of the family” by marrying a rich and powerful man to bring prestige to his family. Try as she might, the young woman was indomitable, and she did not accept a fate equal to that of all other women in the Empire.
The strict etiquette, the etiquette, the traditions, they were only a burden to her. Cri-kree, the little cricket who caused her so many problems in the most delicate situations, was symbolically her rebellious spirit, her curiosity and intolerance to every rule, almost her totem.
Just like Mushu, spirit of the ancestors, emblem of the sacredness of tradition, he was in reality just a caricatured little messy and insecure dragon.
As cunning and likable as he was, he was the perfect personification of how Mulan saw paternalistic and conservative traditions to which her family (not so forcibly) tried to convert her.
On balance, even Khan, his horse, was a symbol: of freedom, of strength, of independence.
Fast as the wind is fast
Mulan does not have the physical strength of her fellow soldiers, but on the other hand she is more agile, faster and over time she also becomes very resistant, although clearly between her and the new companions the physical gap remains considerable.
However, already during the training he demonstrates great intelligence and deductive abilities, as well as an indomitable spirit. Constantly improve, and use unconventional tactics against the Huns in the mountains and in the final showdown against Shan-Yu. Improvisation has always been his forte.
Just during the battle in the snowy mountains, where his commander Li Shang and the others see only an honorable death, she is able to imagine a chance of victory, using the last grenade to destroy the enemy army with an avalanche.
She risks her life to save Li Shang, her companions and the Emperor, and is capable of defeating an enemy far more powerful and experienced than her.
An epochal turning point
It was the first time that a Disney’s “princess” was beyond cliché as a victim to be saved or at most as a poetic creature, purely of intellect and threatened by an evil entity, hoping for the help of the Prince on duty.
In 1998 it was the Prince and the Kingdom that were saved by Mulan, who had to deal not only with the Huns and the evil Shan-Yu, but also with the mistrust and hostility of a world where as a woman she was considered an inferior creature.
It was no coincidence that the Disney proposed female characters less and less tied to tradition, as Tiana from The Princess and the Frog, Rapunzel, Elsa from Frozen, Vaiana di Oceania and especially Merida in Rebel, which it even seemed far more extreme than Mulan in going her own way, in contempt of the uses and customs of society.
Even the legendary Fiona of Shrek it owes much to the brave oriental girl, as well as other female animation characters that came after 1998, in which the world discovered that a Princess can be anything but helpless and predictable.
Mulan’s relationship with Li Shang still amazes today with its tact and maturity, for the psychological rather than physical and romantic process, characterized by a slow and gradual approaching and discovering oneself, questioning oneself and one’s own vision of the world.
Above all, a relationship based on respect, trust, acceptance of the other and on total equality between man and woman.