With the live action “Mulan” being released this year, I thought I would go back and revisit the original Disney animation 22 years after its release. As a preface, this is not a film review OR a comparison between the new 2020 release and the older animated version. This is only a revisit of the 1998 “Mulan” and a look at how it stood against the test of time.
The story of “Mulan” is a retelling of the old Chinese legend of Hua Mulan. In the animated film, Mulan takes her old and weakened father’s place to fight in a war against the invading Huns. The story revolves around her journey as she joins the army disguised as a man and her road to self discovery as she discovers how she fits into her family, her community, and the world.
The film contains trademark Disney elements like comedic animal sidekicks and a love interest, but what sets “Mulan” apart from other Disney princess movies at the time is that she never married into royalty or was not born into a high ranking family. She earned everything herself even when the odds were against her. Since the beginning of the film, Mulan never fit into the mold of the “perfect” feminine Chinese daughter or wife. Even when she joins the army she finds herself out of place among the masculine groups of men. But it’s only when she finds that personalized middle ground that she is able to let her true self shine and bring honor to her family in her own unique way.
Maybe this wasn’t the best Disney film or the most historically accurate, but “Mulan” was undoubtedly ahead of its time with its complex themes on gender roles, identity, and breaking others’ expectations. What made the 1998 “Mulan” animation really successful was how it depicted a character that started out with doubts about herself to someone who embraces herself unapologetically. This animated film presents a strong and universal message that anyone can relate to no matter their gender, race, or age.