The history of Walt Disney Studios is rich with beloved adaptations of some of the most well known stories ever written and passed down from one generation to the next. Among some of Disney’s most beloved tales are fairy tales the likes of: Snow White, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast. These movies have become perhaps some of Disney’s most iconic big screen adaptations of classic literary tales. They have become the cornerstone of Disney’s “Princess” genre over the course of the studio’s history. As famed and beloved as Snow White, Cinderella, and Belle are to this day, audiences saw Disney take a chance on a new brand of Princess in 1992 with the release of Aladdin. Princess Jasmine was much more independent and strong willed than Disney’s other princesses that audiences had come to know. She would be the first of her brand for female audiences to look up to. But it wouldn’t be another six years that audiences would see an equally strong and independent figure in Mulan.
The character presented in Disney’s Mulan is based on the ancient Chinese legend of Hua Mulan. The story stays the same in its translation in that this Mulan also takes the place of her father in the Chinese army. That’s where the similarities end. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In comparison to the previously mentioned movies, what audiences get in Mulan is a female lead that is both independent and emotionally and physically strong. She is a positive role model for young female audiences today, just as Merida is in the more recent Disney feature film, Brave. Mulan, as a figure, proves that whether in China’s past or in the twenty-first century, women can do anything that men can do. Sometimes they can do what men do even better. What’s more even when her secret is revealed late in the movie, she doesn’t get pushy. She simply remains a strong leader, instead of forcing her inner strength down the throats of her male counterparts. This too is something from which young women can take away from Mulan. It is good to be a strong person. But being as good as the boys and men doesn’t mean pushing it in their faces and down their throats.
That Mulan serves as a positive role model is just one part of the success of the movie centered on her. It is her strength and her dedication to her family that leads her to do what she does. This seems somewhat inconsequential at first glance. But in the bigger picture, her dedication to her family (and especially to her father) continues Disney’s long-running tradition of offering the theme of family first. Mulan did what she did for her family. And in the end, it was her own family that shoed its love and respect for her for having saved not just her father, but her entire nation. This in itself serves a secondary theme. That secondary theme is of strength in personal belief. One person—male or female—can make huge difference whether it is on one person or a whole nation. It just takes belief in one’s own self.
The themes of family and self belief are wonderful for viewers of all ages. The same can be said of Mulan serving as a positive role model for young female viewers. Already, one can see how underrated this movie is in comparison to Disney’s other “princess” movies. Audiences will also appreciate the movie’s writing. There is more than enough physical comedy to make both male and female audiences laugh. A prime example of this comes when Mulan first comes into the warriors’ camp and sees how they interact. Her attempt to pass as one of them will leave any viewer laughing. And early on when Mulan is learning how to be a “proper wife”, her lesson leads to a moment of great physical comedy that again the whole family will love. They are just a tiny portion of the whole movie’s impressive writing. Viewers that take the time to watch the entire movie will find many more funny moments for themselves.
Just as important to the movie as its writing, and positive themes is the bonus features in the new Blu-ray/DVD multi-disc re-issue of Mulan/Mulan II. Viewers that pick up the new Mulan/Mulan II multi-disc set from Disney will gain even more appreciation for both movies after watching the roughly fifteen bonus features spread across both movies. Audiences learn in large part via the movies’ bonus features is the balance attained in partnering both hand drawn animation and digital (computer generated) “animation.” The balance is so even that it’s nearly impossible to tell what is hand drawn and what is created digitally. So what importance does this have, one might ask? The answer is simple. This is important in that it shows digital animation is not the do all, end all. It is a tool, and should be used as such, rather than a replacement for hand drawn animation. This is a discussion that has been raised in the bonus features of previous Disney re-issues. In a time when so many studios are relying increasingly on digital animation, the discussion of how digital and hand drawn animation were merged to make this final product shows that it is possible to make a movement back toward hand drawn animation. One can only hope that studios will take heed to this message. Until or unless they do, audiences at least have Mulan as proof that the past and future of animation can be crossed. That bridge, combined with everything else offered by this new re-issue, makes Mulan a work that while it may not be one of Disney’s most well known features is one that offers more than just what’s on the surface. It’s a movie that’s worth more than just one watch. And it’s available now in stores and online. It can be ordered online via the Disney store at http://www.disneystore.com/mulan-15th-annniversary-blu-ray-and-dvd-combo-pack/mp/1331589/1000316/ and via the Disney DVD store at http://disneydvd.disney.go.com/mulan-two-movie.html.
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