Screenshot of Mushu from Disney's Mulan (1998).

Screenshot from Disney’s Mulan (1998).

“Dishonour on your whole family! Dishonour on you! Dishonour on your cow!”

Not only does Eddie Murphy’s performance as Mushu the dragon make Mulan one of the funniest Disney films, I also believe it provides young girls with a positive female role model which many of its traditional fairy-tale counterparts lack.

For those of you unfamiliar with Mulan’s story here is the basic plot: disguised as a male soldier, Mulan runs away to join the Chinese army in the place of her elderly and war-injured father. Fooling both her captain and her comrades she soon becomes one of the strongest and bravest soldiers, saving them all from vicious enemy attack. However, she becomes injured and her true identity is discovered; she is cast out and only escapes execution thanks to her captain’s mercy. Believing they have defeated the enemy, the soldiers return to the Chinese Emperor’s palace to celebrate. Meanwhile, Mulan discovers the enemy are alive and sets out to warn the palace. At first no one will listen to her because she is only a woman, however her captain and comrades remember Mulan’s bravery and put aside their prejudices. Together they defeat the enemy and save the Emperor. Mulan is awarded the highest military honour and the Emperor’s crest to take home to her family.

It is clear from just this short description that the story of Mulan does not conform to the stereotypical narrative associated with Disney Princess films. Although at the end of the film there is a hint at romance with the captain, the story does not revolve around the girl finding her Prince to achieve happiness and self-worth. Instead Mulan uses her own intelligence and strength (of course with some help from Mushu along the way!) to save her father and also find her true self.

Unlike her blonde and beautiful Disney sisters she does not spend her days singing to woodland animals, cleaning the house, or eating forbidden fruits. Mulan is determined, brave, resourceful, and full of ambition to become more than the obedient bride she is expected to be by her family and her community. She proves herself to be equal to her male comrades and shows her people how wrong their stereotypical views of girls can be. Not only this, but perhaps most importantly of all, Mulan learns to see someone worthwhile in her reflection.

Although I believe there is a time and a place for magical Disney stories like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty (I am a huge Disney Princess fan after all!) I feel exposure to tales portraying strong, independent, female characters is of utmost importance to young girls. After all, we all want to see someone we are proud of looking back at us from the mirror!

-Erin Sykes
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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