Classic Movie Catchup: Mulan


Mulan isn't the kind of movie that I usually talk about in these classic movie posts, but I watched it recently, it's pretty freaking classic, and I want to talk about it. So there.
I'm not the Disney fanatic that some people (particularly in the vintage community, it seems) are. I was much more in tune with Warner Brothers' snark than I was with Disney's earnestness, but Mulan is the kind of movie that's practically designed to break down my defenses. It's probably a good thing I watched it when I was home alone, otherwise I would have felt weird alternately cheering and crying.
You've seen it, right? I'm assuming everyone here has seen it. If not, there'll probably be some spoilers in this post. Maybe go watch it right now if you haven't seen it - it's streaming on Netflix anyway.
It's funny, but the movie seemed much longer when I was younger. There are only a few major events in the movie, but they pack a lot of emotion into not a lot of running time. The songs are maybe not as memorable as, say, The Lion King, but I don't think many movies can compare in that regard. I'll Make a Man Out of You is definitely the standout number - I was singing it in the shower the next day, and am thinking it might make a pretty sweet karaoke jam.
Now, I'll grant that I haven't seen either Brave or Frozen, so maybe Mulan isn't the most feminist Disney animated movie anymore, but it's the most feminist one that I've seen. For starters, Mulan is the driver of the story, not a passive character driven by the actions of others. While, like most Disney princesses, she's motivated by love, it's love of family that pushes her to take up her father's sword, not a romantic involvement.
I've seen some criticism of the fact that Mulan has to dress up as a man to gain the power to save both her family and her country, but I think they're missing the point. For one thing, they're applying modern standards to a historical character. There are a lot of stories about women dressing as men to go into the military, or to be the son that their mother needs in order to survive in a patriarchal society, or to be able to live their lives on their own terms. I think it says a lot more about the society that they live in, which only respects them if they are male, than it does about the women who subvert the rules to accomplish their goals.
They also kind of miss the fact that Mulan is actually dressed as a woman at the moment of her triumph. When she defeats Shan Yu, she does it wearing a dress and using only a fan and her innate intelligence.
mulan sword through fan
Though there is a love story, it's at the very background of the story, and it's really not until that end that it reads as anything other than close camaraderie between soldiers. Part of that may be that Disney wanted to avoid any gay subtext, but I like to think it's because Mulan was far more concerned with not getting found out, and with defeating the threat to her country, than with finding love with Commander Cutie.
I don't think it's just Disney's carefully engineered heartstring tugging machine that made me bawl when Mulan comes home either. Her father practically tossing aside the sword and seal to hug the daughter that he missed - holy fucking catharsis, Batman. I'm tearing up a little bit right now just thinking about it.
I tried to watch Pocahontas the other night, and I just couldn't make it through. I remember loving that movie when I was young, and I heard someone sing Colors of the Wind not too long ago and realizing was a beautiful song it is, but all I could think about was small pox and genocide. And it weirdly bugged me that John Smith didn't have a British accent. There was no America yet, guys! Why does he sound like he's from Nebraska? Robin Hood (the one where he's a fox) was another favorite that was only ok through the lens of adulthood.
What childhood favorites have your revisited? How did you feel about the experience?

Also, just a little reminder: I will be posting some amazing deals in anticipation of Black Friday this Monday, the 24th. I have exclusive offers from Chronically Vintage and The Best Vintage Clothing, as well as a great list of the offers from some of my favorite vintage and vintage appropriate sellers. If you're a vendor and would like to be added to the list, just let me know.