This article was written by Rebekah Brannan as part of The Third Annual Great Breening Blogathon.
In 1998, Disney released the last film in its great genre, the Disney Renaissance. This film, based on an ancient Chinese legend of a woman who joined the army in disguise, has been a beloved classic ever since its release. The film’s heroine, the brave and independent Fa Mulan, has been a role model for little girls throughout the world. However, this film has dangerous undertones. The lead character’s desire to go against tradition and perform the duties of a man hint at a desire to become what she is not. A culture of people who are discontent with their gender has sprung up in recent years, because children of the last few generations were growing up with films like this one. As a Disney princess, Mulan is a beloved and revered role model for impressionable young girls. Her discontent and rebellious actions can fuel a similar discontent in children who look up to her. In a society where we continually urge children to “be themselves,” and to “love who they are,” this discontent seems a strange contradiction. I will show how, with some changes to the theme, tone, and message, this film could have been perfectly acceptable. Although I had to fix some deep plot problems in my last Disney project, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, this will be my first real “major reconstruction job,” as we call it here at PEPS! Through a few paragraphs devoted to the plot and my usual numbered list of “surface problems,” I will show how Mulan could have been a truly good role model for the children who love her. Now, the lights dim, the theater hushes, and the screen comes to life! Now, let’s get down to business, because here comes Mulan!
After the opening of the film, when the Huns first enter China, and the Emperor orders for extra men to be recruited to the army, our heroine is seen for the first time. She is sitting in bed, preparing for her presentation to the Matchmaker. She is uncertain about the “Final Admonition,” which she has to recite, so she is cheerfully writing it on her arm. She brings her father, Fa Zhou, his tea, and he reminds her of her responsibility that day. Surreptitiously pulling her sleeve over the notes on her arm, she promises she won’t let him down. Meanwhile, her mother, Fa Li, and her grandmother are seen waiting for her at the “beauty parlor.” Mulan rides up astride on her horse, unkempt and late. She is then bathed, dressed, and generally made-up for her meeting with the Matchmaker. An unlucky combination of wet ink on her arm and an escaped cricket turn the meeting into a disaster, and the Matchmaker proclaims that Mulan will never bring honor to her family. Back at home, Mulan laments her inability to hide who she is behind fancy hair and makeup. Meanwhile, Chi Fu arrives in the street with some soldiers and announces that one man from every family must serve in the army. Although Fa Zhou is quite old and has a leg injury from the last war, which forces him to walk with a cane, he comes forward to accept the summons. Horrified, Mulan runs out and begs the soldiers to release Fa Zhou from duty. Chi Fu is shocked that a woman dared to speak to men, and Fa Zhou is bitterly ashamed as he accepts the summons. Later, Mulan sees Fa Zhou trying a few maneuvers with his sword, but he suddenly cries out and falls, clutching his leg. At dinner, Mulan angrily declares that it’s unfair for Fa Zhou to be recruited, since he has already served. However, Fa Zhou says it is an honor to serve. He declares that he knows his place, and that it is time she learned hers. Mulan runs out in tears. Later, she sees the silhouettes of Fa Li and Fa Zhou in their room, where Fa Zhou is trying in vain to comfort his distraught wife. Soon, Fa Zhou resignedly blows out his candle, leaving the room in darkness. Mulan steals into her parents’ room, taking Fa Zhou’s summons and leaving her hair comb in its place. Then, she cuts her hair with Fa Zhou’s sword, dons his armor, and rides off on her horse. By the time her family wakes up and learns of her decision, she is long gone.
This basic synopsis of the film’s first section seems innocent enough in itself. However, it is not so much the events that take place in this section, but the way they are played that is the problem. I will now give more detailed synopsis of how the first section of the film could be played, keeping some parts and changing others. I will also be including an extra scene, but it will not lengthen the film unduly, because, as you will see in time, I will be deleting an entire scene later in the film.
Mulan is sitting on her bed, writing on her arm, but her manner is very anxious. She has Little Brother help her feed the chickens and is soon seen again. She walks up to the temple, with a tray of tea in her hands. She accidentally bumps into her father and drops the tray. He catches the teapot with his stick, and she barely manages to catch the teacup. As she pours the tea, Fa Zhou keeps trying to address her. However, she keeps talking, seeming afraid of what he has to say. He finally manages to ask her if she knows what is expected of her. She anxiously says that it is to uphold the family honor. Then solemnly promises not to let him down as she tugs down her sleeve to cover the writing on her arm. Then, she hurries away to get ready. On her way down the stairs she trips and narrowly escapes tumbling down head over heels. Fa Zhou sighs, shakes his head, and says that he’s going to pray some more. Mulan is then seen hurrying out the gate and hurrying toward town. On her way, she passes an old woman hobbling across the road. She stops to help the old woman, who thanks her heartily. As she walks away, calling goodbye to the old woman, she doesn’t look where she is going. She trips over a stone in the road and falls into some bushes. She seems unharmed as she pulls herself up, but her hair has come loose and has a few branches stuck in it, and her dress is smudged with dirt. She brushes off her dress and then quickly rushes ahead. Her mother and grandmother are then seen in town. Her mother frets that she is late, and her grandmother causes a huge pileup in the road through her reckless endeavors to determine if the cricket she captured is lucky. Finally, Mulan comes rushing up, unkempt and out of breath. She tries to explain to her mother, but Fa Li refuses to listen to her excuses, and she quickly brings her in to get cleaned up. The song, “Honor to Us All,” follows, and during the song, Mulan is transformed into a perfect bride. The lady in charge of the salon promptly dumps Mulan into a bath and begins washing her hair. Fa Li notices the writing on Mulan’s arm and questions her about it. Mulan innocently says that its notes in case she forgets something. Next, Mulan is having her hair done; the hairdresser tucks back the one lock of hair that wants to stay forward, and all the ladies admire her. Next, Fa Li and Mulan walk through the street to go to the dressmakers, passing other girls and their mothers in the street. Mulan looks around nervously at all the lovely, poised girls around her and seems very troubled. She is so distracted that she walks right into the table of two men, upsetting the game they were playing. The men scowl angrily at her, and Fa Li quickly pulls her away. At the dressmaker’s, Mulan is dressed in a beautiful kimono, but she still seems anxious. When Mulan and Fa Li pass through the street again, Mulan sees a little boy steal a little girl’s doll. She snatches the doll back and hands it kindly to the little girl. Finally, the final touch is put on Mulan’s new look as a final woman applies full makeup. The woman holds up a mirror, and Mulan looks at herself in shock, then leans closer to the mirror, as if to see if it’s truly she. As she does, the stubborn lock of hair falls forward again. Fa Li lovingly places a comb into her daughter’s hair and tucks the stray lock back again. Grandmother Fa gives Mulan an apple, a pendant, a necklace of jade, and a cage holding the “lucky” cricket as the final touches. Mulan’s lock of hair stubbornly falls forward again, but this time it stays that way. Mulan then goes into the street, praying for the ancestors to help her. Fa Li runs after her to give her her paper umbrella, and Mulan rushes to join the line of girls walking toward the Matchmaker’s house. Mulan is called first, and she accidentally speaks without permission. She hurries in, and the Matchmaker says she’s too skinny. Meanwhile, the cricket escapes, and Mulan finally has to toss it away before the Matchmaker sees it. The Matchmaker tells her to recite the final admonition, and, despite the fact that her notes were smeared in the bath, she makes it through with only one small mistake. The Matchmaker, suspecting that she has written notes, grabs her arm and snatches away her fan. She doesn’t find anything on it, so she merely leads Mulan over to a table. However, the wet ink is now on her hand, and she draws a black beard on her face. Mulan, shocked, spills some of the tea she is pouring on the table. To her horror, she sees the cricket in the teacup. The Matchmaker takes the cup away before Mulan can fish out the cricket, and, in trying to get the cup away from her, she spills tea all over the woman. The Matchmaker is outraged, and the calamity progresses when the cricket gets into her dress and begins hopping around. In trying to get the cricket, the Matchmaker knocks over a pot of coals and catches her dress on fire. Finally, Mulan tries to put the fire out with the tea, but only manages to splash it in the Matchmaker’s face. The Matchmaker says she is a disgrace and, despite her appearance, she will never honor her family before storming back into her house. Mulan looks after her in despair. Back at the house, Mulan is just coming back in through the gate, when she sees her father. She quickly hurries past him and finds herself by the barn, where her father’s horse, Khan, is drinking out of the trough. She sadly strokes the animal’s nose, then looks at herself in the water and sighs. She then sings the song “Reflection.” The lyrics go as follows: “Look at me/I will never pass for a perfect bride/Or a perfect daughter/Can it be, that I’m somehow set apart/Now I see, that unless I somehow can change myself/I will break my family’s heart/Why can’t I somehow be that sweet girl that I see/My reflection’s only who I long to be/I’m hopeless, I suppose/Though I’ve tried, goodness knows/I will never be that girl my reflection shows/I will never be that girl my reflection shows.” As she sings, she releases the cricket, walks across a bridge, gazes at her reflection in a lake, and finally enters the temple, where she sees her reflection multiplied in all the shiny stone monuments. Throughout the rest of this portion of the film, the cricket, Cri-kee, continues to follow her and watch her sadly. As the song ends, she walks back to the lake and, kneeling at the edge of the water, washes off her makeup and takes her hair down. Then, she goes to sit on a stone bench nearby. Just as she sits down, deep in thought, she hears someone clear his throat, and her father comes to sit beside her. He remarks that they have beautiful blossoms this year. There is a tense pause, and then Mulan turns toward him. “Father,” she says, “I know I’ve always been a clumsy, awkward girl. I’ve been nothing more than a burden to you, and I never do anything right. I so hoped that I would be able to prove myself today. I know I’ve never done anything to make you proud, but I always thought that I could overcome my faults. But, when I saw myself today, with my beautiful clothes and my face painted perfectly, it all felt so fake. I don’t know the girl I saw in my reflection. I’m not perfect inside, so, even if I look perfect outside, it doesn’t change me. I’m still worth nothing, and I’ll never bring honor to my family, just like she said. I’m not like the other girls, no matter how much paint you put on my face to make me beautiful.” She looks away dejectedly, and her father looks up, pondering. “Mulan,” he says, “look at these blossoms around you. They are all in full bloom and they are very beautiful. But look, this one’s late. But I’ll bet that when it blooms it will be the most beautiful of all.” As he speaks, he takes her hair comb and pull back some of her hair with it. She smiles and he smiles back. Before they can speak, however, they hear a drum being pounded and go to see what has caused the commotion. Chi Fu is in the street outside their gates, with a couple of soldiers. Fa Zhou, Li, Mulan, and Grandmother Fa gather in the gateway and look out to see what is happening. Chi Fu announces that the Huns have invaded China, and one man from every family will be required to serve in the Imperial Army. He calls out a couple of names, and, in one case, a young man says he will go instead of his aging father. When he calls the Fa name, all the womenfolk are horrified. Mulan grabs her father’s arm and says, “Father, you can’t go! Your leg….” However, Fa Zhou hands his cane to Fa Li, and bravely walks out to receive the summons. As Mulan watches in horror, shaking her head, he takes the scroll offered him, and accepts his orders for where to report the next day. Then he walks confidently back, refusing to accept his cane from Fa Li. Later, Mulan is passing her father’s room, when she sees him looking at his old armor. He pulls out his sword and practices some maneuvers. However, as he does one move, he cries out and falls down in pain. Mulan is frightened and horrified by this sight. Later, the family is eating dinner in silence, since none of them wish to accept the horrible news. Finally, unable to bear it anymore, Mulan breaks into tears. Everyone in the table shocked. Her father touches her arm softly and says, “Mulan…” She sniffles and looks up at him with wet eyes. “It’s not fair,” she says in a soft, strained voice. “You already fought and… and now your injured. You shouldn’t have to go when there are so many young men to fight for China.” Fa Zhou gets a somber expression. “It is an honor to protect my country and my family.” Mulan looks at him in despair, and tearfully says, “But you’ll die.” Fa Zhou looks out seriously. “Perhaps, but I will die doing what’s right.” Mulan looks at him and shakes her head in disbelief. “No,” she says, softly. “No, I can’t bear it.” She turns and runs from the room, sobbing, as her family looks after her sadly. She rushes outside, still crying, and sinks down next to a pillar. Soon, she is sitting beneath a sheltering dragon statue in the rain, still crying. She looks down at her reflection in a puddle, then looks off at her parents’ window. She sees their silhouettes against the window and watches sadly as her father tries to comfort her mother. Her mother rushes out of sight, apparently inconsolable at the thought of losing her husband, and Fa Zhou resignedly blows out the candle. Mulan stares at the darkened window for a moment, then suddenly makes a decision. She goes to the temple to pay a final respect to her ancestors, then hurries out. She takes her father’s summons from the nightstand, leaving her hair comb in its place, and hurries away. Then, she cuts her hair with her father’s sword, pulls it up in a male fashion, and dons his armor. When she finally enters the stables, thus attired, the horse is frightened by her. However, she hurries to calm it, and it soon recognizes her. Then, he brings the horse out, casts one sad glance back at the house, and rides away. Her grandmother wakes up with a strange feeling and rushes into Fa Zhou and Li’s room, saying that Mulan is gone. Fa Zhou finds the hair comb on the nightstand and rushes to the cabinet to find his armor gone. He rushes outside, calling Mulan’s name, but he finds the gates swinging free in the wind. Fa Li says he must go after Mulan, because she could be killed, but he says that she certainly will be if he reveals her. Grandmother Fa prays to the ancestors to watch over Mulan.
This concludes my reconstruction of the first portion of the film. As you can see, I did not change it all that much. I merely emphasized that Mulan wants to be a perfect bride as much as her parents want her to. Instead of being rebellious, she is merely unlucky and a bit clumsy. It is important to set up her character the right way, so that the reason for her masquerade is clearly above reproach. The next part of the film that needs reconstruction is the film’s end, when Mulan practically saves China single-handedly. I will describe my revised version in the paragraph below.
Just as Li Shang is presenting the sword of Shan-Yu to the emperor, Shan-Yu himself appears on the roof, and his few remaining soldiers appear out of the dragon used in the parade. Two men drag the Emperor inside the palace, and the doors slam shut before Li Shang can get to them. As Shang and the soldiers try to break the door down with a stone statue, Mulan rushes up and says she has an idea. Her three friends, Yao, Chien-Po, and Ling, hesitate, then follow her. Soon she has them disguised as concubines, complete with makeup and hairdo’s, and she has also changed back to a dress. Just as they are about to climb pillars using their sashes, Shang joins them and pulls off his cape to climb. They grapple up and enter the palace unnoticed. As Shan-Yu threatens the emperor on a balcony, he tells two of his men to guard the door. Mulan leads the three fake concubines out to distract the guards. Shan-Yu’s falcon spots Shang around the corner, but Mushu blasts it with flames before it can warn the soldiers, reducing it to something like a plucked chicken. Meanwhile, using fruit and karate, the four “concubines” have overcome the soldiers. While they hold the guards, Shang rushes onto the balcony to save the emperor. Shang gets there just in time and blocks Shan-Yu’s sword just when he is going to kill the emperor. As Shang holds down Shan-Yu, the three concubines grab the emperor and swing down to the crowd below using a long cable strung with paper lanterns. However, even as they go, Shan-Yu knocks out Shang, leaving him defenseless. Mulan, fearing for his life, chooses not to escape, but cuts the cord so that Shan-Yu cannot get away. Shan-Yu is furious that Shang took away his victory and, although Shang tries to defend himself with his knife, Shan-Yu soon overpowers him. Just as he is about to finish off the captain, Mulan tells him that it was she who stole his victory, pulling up her hair briefly to show that she is the soldier from the mountains. Shan-Yu drops Shang and starts toward Mulan, but she quickly runs out and bars the door against him. However, he quickly punches through the door and bursts out, with Shang in hot pursuit. Mulan spots the fireworks in a nearby tower and seems to get an idea, Mushu, who was following her on Shan-Yu’s falcon, jumps onto a kite and sails over to carry out the plan both of them have in mind. Meanwhile, Shang is grappling with Shan-Yu. However, Shan-Yu soon breaks away and heads around the corner. He begins swinging at Mulan, chopping pillars in half with his vicious blows. AS she runs, she loses her footing for a moment. Shang emerges around the corner and grabs Shan-Yu’s arm just as he is about to finish off Mulan. Shan-Yu shrugs off Shang just as Mulan scrambles up a pillar. He chops the pillar in half, and it breaks right through the wall, leaving Mulan dangling high above the city. She climbs on top of the pillar, then jumps and grabs the edge of the roof. Shang bursts out and tries to wrestle with Shan-Yu again, as Mushu frightens away the men in the firework tower by saying he’s their “worst nightmare.” Shan-Yu throws off Shang, and he falls down. Thankfully, Chien-Po catches him just as Mulan climbs onto the roof. She is just gauging the distance from the roof to the firework tower, when Shan-Yu bursts right through the ceiling. He comes toward her, and she searches for a weapon. However, all she can find is her fan. He lunges at her, but she uses the fan to twist the sword away from him. Mushu, who has just arrived at the edge of the roof, lights the rocket strapped to his back as Mulan uses karate to knock down Shan-Yu and catches the edge of his cloak with his sword. The rocket hits him and pushes him toward the fireworks tower as Mulan grabs Mushu and rushes to get off the roof. The fireworks tower explodes into an elaborate pyrotechnical display just as Mulan jumps off the roof and swings down on one of the lanterns. She falls before she reaches the ground, but lands on Shang, knocking them both to the ground. Shan-Yu’s sword, Mushu, and Cri-kee land beside them as the fireworks burst and the crowd cheers. Chi Fu storms down the steps, complaining about the mess, and tells the soldiers to move aside. He says that they were all disgraceful to let a woman take on Shan-Yu while they watched. Shang tells him that Mulan’s a hero, and he sneers. Shang grabs him by his collar, and seems ready t knock him down, when the emperor descends the steps and says that is enough. Shang tries to explain, but the emperor holds up his hand to silence him, and says, “Captain Li Shang and Fa Mulan step forward. Yao, Chien-Po, and Ling, now dressed in their normal clothes again, step aside as Mulan joins Shang before the emperor and bows to him. “Captain, you did not detect a masquerade in your own camp, you informed me that Shan-Yu had died without being certain of it, you allowed him to overcome you in combat, and you left a woman to defeat him.” He turns to Mulan. “And you. I’ve heard a great deal about you, Fa Mulan. You stole your father’s armor, ran away from home, impersonated a soldier, deceived your commanding officer, dishonored the Chinese Army, destroyed my palace, and… you have saved us all. You two have saved all of China.” He bows to Mulan and Shang, and Chi Fu, Yao, Chien-Po, Ling, and the entire crowd below soon follows suit. Mushu and Cri-kee are very moved by Mulan’s success. Then, the emperor calls over Chi Fu and says, “See to it that these two people are made members of my council.” Chi Fu is shocked and horrified and says that there are no council positions available. The emperor accepts this graciously and says, “You two can share his job.” Chi Fu, stunned, keels over. Shang accepts the honor graciously, but Mulan says that she feels she has been away from home long enough, so the emperor instead gives her his crest and the sword of Shan-Yu. Mulan is overcome and thanks the emperor. Then, she hugs Yao, Chien-Po, and Ling. When she turns back to Shang, he seems as though he wants to confess his love, but all he musters is, “You fight good” Mulan, disappointed, thanks him and then gets onto her horse and tells him to take her home. The crowd cheers as she rides away, and the emperor tells Shang that you don’t meet a girl like that every dynasty.
This concludes my revision of the troublesome part of the film’s end. The remainder of the ending, when Mulan returns home, does not have any core problems. As you can see, the ending did not need too much revision. It seemed strange to me that Shang disappeared after Mulan fled the balcony, and the next time we saw him he was running out of the palace. This makes his character seem cowardly and creates the conclusion that Mulan saved China single-handedly. One man probably couldn’t save china single-handedly, so I doubt a woman could either. Mulan is still a hero, but she received help from Shang, and neither could have succeeded without the other. It is only fair that Shang be honored as a hero as well since, even in the existing film, he did participate in the battle with Shan-Yu. I will conclude my breening of this film with my usually numbered list of “surface problems.”
- The first problem is the characterization of the Huns, particularly their leader, Shan-Yu. Although these characters are the villains, it is not necessary for them to be positively inhuman. Shan-Yu has yellow eyes, gray skin, fangs, and sharp fingernails that look like claws. His main assistant has a rather cadaverous appearance, with an overly angular face and similar gray skin. The majority of the other Hun soldiers are similarly demonic. It is unfair to depict the Huns as monsters, since they are people just as much as the Chinese. Their evil deeds make them enough of villains without making their appearances so monstrous. Also, this film is geared toward children, and the villain’s appearance could be frightening and disturbing to them. The Huns should merely look like normal people, with no yellow eyes, gray skin, fangs or claws.
- The second problem is the characterization of Chi Fu, the emperor’s consul. This character seems very effeminate from the first moment we see him. He seems to be every inch a pansy, since he has all the telltale signs, including effeminate mannerisms, a high voice, and a lisp. He should seem grumpy and curmudgeonly, but not at all effeminate. Any time he hides in battle or otherwise acts like a frightened woman, he should instead come across merely as a coward. Since we are no longer in the time of the Germanic tribes, a man can be every inch a man, but still be a victim of cowardice. Since this character is not very likeable, he does not have to behave like the perfect example of a man.
- The next problem is the characterization of Grandmother Fa. All of the other members of Mulan’s family seem like good Chinese people, complete with their agreeable nature and respect for Chinese culture. Grandmother Fa, however, seems more like a spunky little Jewish grandmother from New York. While little Jewish grandmothers can be very charming characters, this character seems a little out of place in the Chinese setting. This character must be made more Chinese, in both her manner and her appearance.
- The next problem occurs when Fa Li and Grandmother Fa are waiting for Mulan in town. Fa Li says that she should have prayed to the ancestors for luck and Grandmother Fa replies, “How lucky can they be? They’re dead. Besides I’ve got all the luck we’ll need.” This is very inaccurate, since a good Chinese lady would never be so disrespectful to her ancestors. Besides, she herself prays for them to watch over Mulan just a few scenes later. Her line should be changed to, “Don’t worry, Li, I’ve got all the luck we’ll need.”
- During the song “Honor to Us All,” the lady at the salon pushes Mulan behind a screen and pulls off her clothes before plunging her into a bath. Although they are behind a tall screen, we can see their silhouettes as Mulan is undressed. This is unacceptable. The screen must be made entirely opaque, so that the silhouettes cannot be seen. If it is absolutely necessary to show that she is being undressed, her sash and perhaps one other part of the dress may be tossed over the screen.
- Later in the song, when the finishing touches are being put on Mulan’s makeup, the makeup artist and Fa Li, overlapping each other sing the lyrics, “How could any fellow/Say “no sale“.” The italicized makes it sound like the brides are being bought, and it must be changed. Instead, they should sing something like, “How could any fellow/Say “no veil,” referring to a wedding veil.
- When the prospective brides go to the Matchmaker’s house, a large crowd gathers outside. In the crowd there are at least two women wearing unacceptably low necklines. The necklines must be brought up.
- The next problem is the characterization of the Matchmaker. She is a fat, ugly, course woman who does not show any of the virtues she expects from the brides who are brought to her. This is unrealistic and unacceptable. She should be a pleasant, well-mannered woman, until Mulan pushes her to far with her clumsiness. She may be stern, perhaps a bit too much, but she should at least try to show some decorum. She should not slam doors open and shut, drag Mulan by her arm, or order her to pour the tea so threateningly. When she falls on the table in panic, it should not break beneath her weight, and when she reprimands Mulan in the street, she should not jump about so much or smash the teapot. Although she does have good reason to be angry, and she may raise her voice, she should still attempt to conduct herself like a lady. Overall, the character should be made more like Fa Li and less like Ursula, the Sea Witch.
- When the Matchmaker accepts Mulan rather roughly, Grandmother Fa whispers to Fa Li, “Who spit in her bean curd?” This line is vulgar and would have to be changed, but since the Matchmaker’s nastiness has been toned down, it is now unnecessary and should be eliminated.
- During Mulan’s interview with the Matchmaker, Cri-kee escapes from his cage and begins jumping all over her. When the Matchmaker turns toward Mulan, she desperately shoves the escaped bug into her mouth, then quickly spits it out behind her fan before reciting the Final Admonition. This is disgusting and must be changed. Instead, she should continue holding Cri-kee in her hands, then discreetly toss him away before pulling out her fan.
- When Mulan discovers Cri-kee in the cup of tea she has just poured for the Matchmaker, she tries to take it back and fish him out. However, the Matchmaker does not wish to relinquish the cup. In the ensuing struggle, Mulan ends up spilling the tea all over the Matchmaker, and then Cri-kee jumps into the outraged woman’s top, where he begins hopping around. This is vulgar and must be changed. Instead, Cri-kee should crawl up her sleeve and begin hopping on her arm and possibly her shoulder. However, he should never get into that part of her bodice.
- As she stumbles backwards, panicking at the feeling of a bug in her dress, the Matchmaker accidentally knocks over the pot she was using to warm the tea, spilling hot coals on the floor. She loses her balance and falls right on the coals, catching her skirt on fire right over her posterior. This is also unacceptable and must be changed. Instead, she should catch the hem of her skirt on fire.
- During “Reflection,” when Mulan is crossing a bridge, she jumps onto the railing and hops along on it for a moment. This emphasizes the character’s mannish nature and should be removed.
- When Mulan wipes off her makeup during the song, resulting in the famous shot where her face is half made-up and half plain, it overemphasizes her dual nature. It seems as though she is saying that her reflection doesn’t match who she is even without her makeup. This makes the underlying theme that she doesn’t see who she is when she looks in the mirror, because she sees a girl. Instead, as I mentioned in my revised version of the opening, she should finish her song, and then wash off her face in the lake and take down her hair. (This will also keep people from making jokes about her having makeup remover on her sleeve!)
- In Mulan’s transformation scene, synthesized Chinese music with a very heavy rock beat is played in the background, adding to the tension and rebellion of the scene. In a delicate scene like this, the last thing we need is a heavy beat to incite the baser element in our viewers. Rock and roll is against the Code, so the rock beat must be removed. It should merely be Chinese music with a more dramatic sound to it, like the rest of the background music.
- When Mulan sneaks into her parents’ room to take the summons, Fa Zhou and Fa Li are shown in bed together. It is against the Code to show a man and a woman in bed together, so they must be in twin beds.
- When the Ancestors have a meeting in the temple, one of them, like Grandmother Fa, seems like a New York Jewish man. Although many Jews did settle in China, I don’t think there is supposed to be any Jewish blood in the Fa family. This ancestor’s appearance and accent should be made entirely Chinese.
- One of the ancestors begins ticking off all the things that could happen if Mulan is discovered, and another ancestor adds, “Not to mention they’ll lose the farm.” He and his wife appear to be a replica of the famous painting American Gothic. This is rather goofy and could be insulting to Chinese people who take their ancestors very seriously. It should be eliminated.
- Later, the wife of the aforementioned ancestor complains that their wasn’t such trouble with her children, because they became acupuncturists. When her husband replies that they can’t all be acupuncturists, another ancestor screeches, “No, your great-granddaughter had to be a cross-dresser!” This line is completely unacceptable and must be changed. Instead, she should say something like, “No, your great-granddaughter had to become a warrior!”
- When the lead ancestor is reminding Mushu that he was demoted from being a family guardian, one of the other ancestors says that his guidance led Fa Deng to disaster. The gentleman in question was apparently beheaded because of Mushu, and he is shown holding his severed head in his hand. This is very violent and must be eliminated. Instead, the character should have a ball and chain attached to his leg, to show that he was put in prison, and possibly died there.
- When Mushu first meets Mulan, he says that his powers are beyond her mortal imagination, and attempts to impress her by saying, “For instance, my eyes can see straight through your armor.” Mulan, offended, slaps him, causing him to go into a funny dialogue putting dishonor on her, her family, and her horse. Mushu’s line is unacceptable and must be changed. Instead, he should say, “You certainly need my help. I can see right through your ridiculous disguise.” Insulted, Mulan would slap him, and he could go into his monologue.
- When Mulan first enters the army camp, she sees the men displaying multiple disgusting habits. Mulan, horrified, says, “They’re disgusting.” Mushu replies, “No, they’re men. And you’ve gotta act just like ‘em, so pay attention.” The men’s actions are vulgar and disgusting, and the dialogue is very derogatory toward men. Instead, the men should be lifting weights, wrestling, flexing their muscles, and in general showing off their manliness and strength. Mulan will nervously say, “They’re all so… tough.” Mushu will reply, “Well, they’re men. And you’ve gotta act just like ‘em, so pay attention.”
- When Mulan first encounters Yao, Chien-Po, and Ling, she doubts if she can go through with this. Mushu encourages her, telling her to be tough like Yao. As if to demonstrate his toughness, Yao promptly spits. This is vulgar and should be eliminated.
- Like Chi Fu, the character Ling seems rather effeminate. Although he does sing about “A Girl Worth Fighting For,” his voice and mannerisms make him seem less than a real man. He must be made entirely masculine, so that there is not a hint of a pansy about him.
- Mushu tries to coach Mulan on how to make friends with Yao, telling her to punch him as a form of greeting. Then, he tells her to “slap him on the behind,” saying that men like that. Unfortunately, Mushu is mistaken, and Yao is infuriated. This is unacceptable and must be changed. Instead he should tell her to slap him on the back. She slaps him a little too hard, angering him.
- When Yao tries to punch Mulan, she ducks, and he ends up punching Ling multiple times instead. The close-up on Ling’s face, which shows him rather violently having his teeth knocked out, is unacceptable. Yao should punch him once, giving him a black eye, and then realize his mistake and apologizes.
- The fight that ensues as a result of Mulan’s unfortunate greeting is much too rough and dirty. It should be toned down.
- The main four, Mulan, Yao, Chien-Po, and Ling, are all rather sorry candidates for the army, and this is not especially odd, since they are random men recruited from towns and villages. However, the rest of the many recruits are also a very motley, out-of-shape crew. There must be some young, fit men in the crowd of recruits, and at least a few of them should be personified.
- Later, when Mulan, first meets Captain Li Shang, he is surprised to see that she comes from the Fa house. He says he didn’t know Fa Zhou has a son, to which Mulan replies that her father doesn’t talk about her much. She then tries to spit but fails at it and ends up with a glob of saliva hanging out of her mouth. This is disgusting and must be changed. Instead, she should flex her muscles and hold up her fists to Shang, thus prompting Chi Fu’s line, “I can see why. The boy’s an absolute lunatic!”
- The next morning, Mushu wakes up Mulan in her tent and begins feeding her the breakfast he made for her, porridge with eggs and bacon. He shoves mouthful after mouthful into her mouth until her cheeks are bulging and porridge is dripping down her chin. This is rather distasteful and should be toned down. Mushu should feed Mulan more slowly and decorously.
- While he is feeding her breakfast, he says, “Now remember, it’s your first day of training, so listen to your teacher and no fighting. Play nice with the other kids, unless of course the other kid wants to fight, then you gotta kick the other kid’s -.” Needless to say, the dash represents a rather unsavory term for posterior. Mulan repeats the expression, saying, “But I don’t want to kick the other kid’s -.” This is unacceptable and must be changed. Instead he should say something like, “Unless the other kid wants to fight, then you’ve gotta knock the other kid’s ears down.” Mulan will reply, “But I don’t want to knock the other kid’s ears down.”
- In the next scene, all the soldiers are gathered in the camp, acting rather rowdy, when Chi Fu says, “Order, people, order!” They begin calling out different Chinese dishes, and he tells them that isn’t funny. They all laugh mockingly, and one of the men puts his hands by his head like ears and imitates a donkey braying. This is unacceptable and must be eliminated.
- The first assignment Shang puts to the soldiers is climbing a tall pole with heavy disks attached to their wrists. Yao, the first one up, scrabbles up a few feet and then starts to slide down. He desperately digs his teeth into the pole, but slides down anyway, shaving the wood with his teeth. This is unacceptable and must be removed.
- After they all fail this first assignment, an overview of their training is shown during the song, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.” Near the beginning of the song, Shang grabs Mulan by the front of her shirt while singing the title of the song. The way he grabs her shirt is rather inappropriate, since she’s really a woman, and this should be eliminated. He should either grab her by the arm, grab her shoulders, or keep his hands off of her.
- At several times during this song, most notably when Mulan finally manages to climb the pole, voices chant, “Be a man,” in between phrases. This is unacceptable and must be eliminated.
- When all the soldiers finally begin succeeding at the tasks Shang assigns to them, many of them are still in terrible physical shape. This is unrealistic and preposterous. Their physical appearances should improve along with their combat skills. Most notably, Ling should get more muscular and Chien-Po should lose a good deal of weight.
- When Mulan finally succeeds at running a long distance with a stick holding two weights across her shoulders, she is shown mounting a hill ahead of all the others, including Shang. She may succeed at this task, but she should be in among the ranks, not far ahead of them.
- In the next scene, Shan Yu is seen scouting from the top of a tree. His falcon flies by and drops a little doll into his hand. He shows it to his soldier, asking them what they see, and they find black pine residue, a white horsehair from Imperial stallions, and the smell of sulfur from cannons. From this evidence, Shan-Yu deduces that the doll came from a village in the Tung Shao pass, where the Imperial Army is waiting. His lead archer says they can avoid them, but Shan-Yu says they should take the pass, since it is the quickest way to the emperor. “Besides,” he adds, “the little girl will be missing her doll. We should return it to her.” The way Shan-Yu holds the tiny doll in his hand and this evil reference to returning it to the little girl who lost it could be very disturbing to young children. When Shang and his troop find the village burned later, and Mulan discovers the very same doll lying abandoned in the snow it only makes it more disturbing. Instead of a doll, the item the falcon drops should be a pendant or some other object which would not have such emotional connotations. After saying the Tun Shao pass is the quickest way to the emperor, he should say something like, “When we get there, we’ll be ready for them.”
- The next scene is made up entirely of a completely pointless scenario in which Mulan’s private bath in the lake is interrupted by the arrival of Yao, Chien-Po, and Ling, who also intend to take a bath. From the tossing of unmentionables to suggestive lines, this scene is completely unacceptable and must be eliminated. The only point to the scene is that Mulan makes friend with the three men and Ling introduces them. Instead of this long, ridiculous scene, it could be a brief scene in which Mulan is out walking and she runs into the three men. She tries to sneak away, since she thinks the three men might try to pick another fight with her. Ling asks her to come back, and then he will say his existing dialogue, “Come back here. I know we were jerks to you before, so let’s start over. Hi, I’m Ling.” They shake hands and then Chien-Po taps her and says, “And I’m Chien-Po.” Mulan says, “Hello, Chien-Po.” Then Yao will say, “And I’m Yao,” and extend his hand. Mulan will shake it and smile at him, and then it will cut to the next scene in the consul’s tent with Chi-Fu and Shang.
- After the scene between Chi-Fu and Shang, the consul leaves his tent clad in a bath towel and slippers and bearing a large scrub-brush, evidently heading out to take a bath, and Mushu and Cri-kee sneak into his tent to write a fake note from the General. In the next scene Mushu and Cri-kee, using Mulan’s armor to create a soldier riding a panda, confront him by the lake, which he has just exited. Instead of bathing, the consul should just be out walking when the “black-and-white” intercepts him.
- As the consul exits the lake in this scene, carrying one sodden slipper, he calls, “You men owe me a new pair of slippers!” He then grumbles, “And I do not squeal like a girl.” The panda Mushu is riding grabs his slipper and he promptly squeals like a girl. Since all discussion of the men bathing has been removed, the first part of this scene does not make sense. The consul should be walking, looking down at the report on which he is always writing, when he bumps into the panda and gasps at the sight of it.
- In the next scene, the soldiers sing the song, “A Girl Worth Fighting For.” As Yao, Chien-Po, and Ling fantasize about different qualities they want in their girls, Mulan interjects, “How ‘bout a girl whose got a brain/Who always speaks her mind.” The men promptly say, “Nah,” and move on with their song. This is rather insulting to men, since it makes it seem like every man is superficial and just wants a pretty face with nothing behind it. When she says this, they should all exchange a doubtful glance and say, “Well….” Then, Ling will interrupt with the next verse.
- Later during the song, Yao is shown putting the finishing touches on three snowwomen. These snow sculptures look rather scantily clad. It should be quite clear that he is sculpting women wearing proper clothes.
- In the next scene, the soldiers are traversing the Tung Shao pass. The troop that had at least twenty good, orderly soldiers during “A Girl Worth Fighting For,” is now down to about six. This is preposterous and unbelievable. If it is necessary for the troop to be depleted by the end, they should lose some of the men in the ensuing battle or the avalanche. They shouldn’t simply disappear into thin air.
- During the battle with the Huns, Chi Fu is seen cowering beneath a rock, whimpering. As I said before, this character may come across as cowardly, but not effeminate. He should be hiding behind the rock peeking out occasionally to watch what is happening. However, he should not be curled up and whimpering pathetically.
- When Mulan causes an avalanche to wipe out the Huns, she and Shang get swept up in it. However, she is riding Khan and Shang is being swept along, apparently unconscious. She rides over to him and scoops him onto her horse with one arm! This is rather ridiculous and impossible. Shang should still be conscious, and he should climb onto the horse with Mulan’s help.
- After Mulan is revealed to be a woman, Shang chooses to spare her, but tells his men to move out, leaving her alone in the snow. She tells Mushu that she didn’t really join the Army just to save her father, but to prove that she could do something right. She looks at herself in her shiny helmet, saying she hoped to see someone worthwhile in the mirror, but that she was wrong, and she sees nothing. Mushu says, “Well, that’s just because this needs a little spit, that’s all.” He spits on the helmet and shines it with his elbow. This is vulgar and should be changed. Instead, he should say something like, “Well, that’s just because this needs a little polishing, that’s all.” Then, he will shine it with his elbow, as before.
- When Mulan sees a few of the Huns emerge from the snow and head toward the Imperial City, she decides to follow them and try to warn Shang and the Emperor. Mushu is reluctant, but after Mulan and Cri-kee encourage him, he proclaims, “Well, let’s go kick some honeybuns!” This is unacceptable and must be changed. Instead, he should say something like, “Well, let’s go show them a thing or two!”
- When Mulan dresses up Yao, Chien-Po, and Ling as concubines and they sneak into the palace, a reprise of ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You” is played, once again with the men chanting, “Be a man.” This is unacceptable and must be eliminated.
- When the “concubines” are distracting the guards, Shan-Yu’s falcon spots Shang around the corner. It is about to screech a warning, but it is cut off by a blast of fire. For a moment it looks like a headless plucked chicken, then its head pops out again. This is unacceptable and should be eliminated.
- While Mulan is battling Shan-Yu, Mushu and Cri-kee jump onto a kite and glide over to the fireworks tower. He tells the men working there that he needs firepower and, when they ask who he is, he spreads the wings of the kite and replies, “Your worst nightmare.” The men jump off the tower, screaming in terror, and we don’t see if anyone catches them when they land. This is unduly violent and must be changed. They should either scream and rush for the stairs or be shown landing their wild jump safely.
- When Mulan returns home, Grandmother Fa complains to Fa Li that she brought home a sword rather than a man. Even as she’s saying it, Shang appears and asks if Mulan lives there. Fa Li and Grandmother Fa point numbly and, as he walks away, Grandmother Fa exclaims, “Woo! Sign me up for the next war!” This is unacceptable and must be eliminated.
- After Mushu is restored to family guardian for helping Mulan become a war hero, Cri-kee begins playing a set of drums, and the ancestors all begin doing ridiculous dancing to heavy rock n’ roll. This is completely unacceptable and must be changed. Instead, the ancestors should have a nice, refined celebration over some tea.
This concludes my breening of Mulan. I hope that I have not offended anyone who loves this movie. I myself found this film very enjoyable to watch, and I hope that you will still be able to as well. I only wish to call to your attention the danger of such films. In the guise of a children’s film, a movie with such controversial undertones can be very dangerous. I also wish to dispel the common myth that, when breening a film like this, the Code oppresses women. The Code only wishes to protect the family, the basis of which is women wanting to be wives and mothers. Also, as I said in the introduction, characters like Mulan can cause confusion in a young mind. This is my participation in The Third Annual Great Breening Blogathon, and I was very glad to finally tackle this film, which I have been contemplating for quite some time. Thank you for reading, I’ll see you next time!
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One thought on “Breening “Mulan” (1998) for The Third Annual Great Breening Blogathon by Rebekah Brannan”
I have three fundamental objections that I can keep silent about (in fact, more, but our worldview is too different).
1) I believe that the words “How could any fellow / Say“ no sale “.” Should not be changed, as this reflects the social reality in which these women live. In most countries until the twentieth century (and in some such a situation continues to this day), the engagement was more of a business deal, and marriages were made on the basis of economic or other considerations. In the 1954 film Prince Valiant, this moment is mentioned – the father of Princess Aleta wants to marry her as Sir Brack, simply because he is the half-brother of King Arthur. Moreover, this isn’t Europe – the bride doesn’t wear a veil. Although perhaps this line is not necessary – in such a society heads of families agree on marriage, not young people.
2) I don’t think that it is advisable to change the moment with the doll. Firstly, this is a strong emotional scene, the prologue is alarming, and the climax is tragic – reminiscent of the horrors of war. And remember – Bambi’s mother was killed in 1942. Secondly – in fact, it isn’t surprising that the lord of the Huns (Shan-yu – title) cruelly jokes about a little girl (in addition to being a villain). Neither the slave-owning era nor the Middle Ages were distinguished by special humanity – a certain Viking was nicknamed “soft” or “good-natured” simply because he didn’t consider it fun to drop children off a cliff during a raid. During the siege of Vienna, Austrians reported on the course of torture of the Turks, while the latter boasted of the number of women and children killed. The Huns are a special case – since such peoples live off the robbery of their settled neighbors. Moreover – for them a forehead who isn’t a full member of the tribe, the essence is cattle, talking and wandering property that can easily be slaughtered.
3)As for rock and roll – don’t you think that here we cannot afford to rely on the position of 54 years? Then rock and roll was monolithic, and had a bad reputation. Now rock is a general concept, which includes a huge number of musical directions with different levels of commercial potential and reputation.