When Disney rolled out Mulan in 1998, I finally had my princess. Sure, I was 18 and headed to college a few months later, but Mulan resonated with me in a way that no other princess ever had.
Ariel hit the big screen when I was nine. And nine-year-old me had some issues with ‘Kiss the Girl’ regarding consent. Go on and kiss the girl? Hmm, nope. You gotta ask her first.
Belle came along a few years later. I do relate to the girl who wanders around town, headstrong and desperate to go out and see the world. But … a girl who would fall in love so easily? Pshaw.
Jasmine may have been a little more my speed – but the movie wasn’t about Jasmine. It was centered around Aladdin.
The next few years brought Nala, Pocahontas, Esmerelda and Megara. All fine additions to the princess lineup, to be sure … but, still, they didn’t quite represent me.
Enter Mulan. I was super excited to see a story from Asia! But I had no idea what the movie really held for me.
Mulan is a girl who does all the girl things wrong. Her heart isn’t really in them, and when she tries – when she really, really tries – she messes everything up and is just a huge disappointment to her family and community.
And then she goes and has an adventure! Not a journey to find a man – but a journey to go be a thing that no one thinks she can be. She has her struggles, but, ultimately, she comes out on top.
And in the cartoon, at least: a man follows her home.
The cartoon does have some great songs! But: it’s not a musical. I made the mistake of buying the soundtrack when I got to college and … well … it’s mostly instrumental background stuff.
There’s been a big kerfuffle about the new live-action movie not living up to the cartoon: it’s not as funny! They took the songs out!
But for me: this movie’s soul is the same as the cartoon. When Mulan’s father sat her down to tell her to hide her talents: I was five years old again, my dad telling me I couldn’t be a Cub Scout. That this thing that I saw my big brother do, that I was so excited about! I couldn’t do that. I shouldn’t want that.
Mulan is a girl who wants all the wrong things. Who is good at the wrong things. Who is so very bad at the things she is supposed to excel at. The things that will bring honor to her family.
But those things that are so wrong? They wouldn’t be wrong if she had been a boy.
So off she goes, has an adventure, saves the world. All by pushing aside the expectations society put on her, and embracing who it is she wants to be.
So this live-action Mulan? It was everything I wanted it to be.