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Mulan

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MULAN
Overview
In mythology, the journey of a hero is an ancient and universal theme. In every culture from ancient Greece to China, Southeast Asia, and the Americas, heroes have embarked on life-altering journeys (Kurtti 1998: 11). Stuart Voytilla states that there are twelve stages to a hero’s journey and no matter what the purpose is for their journey, in the end the heroes or in this case heroine, share the same destination. It does not matter if the hero gains a kingdom or returns home with the elixir, as mythologist Alexander Eliot puts it, “he actually earns self-integration, balance, wisdom, and spiritual health” (Kurtti 1998: 11). One of the most renowned and beloved of these “wandering heroes” says Kurtti, is a young woman named Mulan. It is a story that is well known in China and has been told from generation to generation. “Mulan” is a Disney animated film based on an ancient Chinese folktale about a brave young woman who is faced with the terrible dilemmas of war during ancient China. She is not like any of the other Disney heroines, such as Cinderella or Ariel from the “Little Mermaid”. You do not see her daydreaming or looking for her “Prince Charming” in the film. All she wanted to do was to please and honor her family. But every time she tried, it seemed as though she was destined to fail. She also had one simple motivation and that was to save her father from having to serve in the Imperial Army. So when the emperor sent his orders to the people of China that each family must send one male to serve in the army, Mulan fears for the worst. Since she is the only child, the Fa family has no choice but to send the patriarch of the family, Fa Zhou. Now Mulan is faced with the reality that her father must go off to fight in this war. She fears that her father is too told to be a soldier and will never be able to survive the harsh environments of war. She makes a decision that will forever change her life as well as the lives of her family. She disguises herself as a boy and secretly takes her father’s place in the Imperial Army to fight the invading Huns led by Shan-Yu, where she embarks on a long journey to bring honor to her family. Along this journey, she develops new friendship and even trust among her fellow soldiers. In addition, she finds strength, courage and self-discovery.
A Heroine’s Journey The story of “Mulan” is a classic tale of a young woman who has a difficult time fitting into the traditional roles of a woman in ancient China. In one of the first scenes Mulan cites that a proper young woman should be “quiet and demure, graceful, polite, delicate, fine poise and punctual” (Disney’s Mulan: 1998). All of which Mulan is not. In fact, in an amusing scene where she goes to a matchmaker to see if she is suitable for marriage so she could bring honor to her family by marrying a good man, she ends up ruining everything. She speaks without being told and causes quite a scene. The matchmaker tells Mulan, “You are a disgrace. You may look like a bride, but you will never bring your family honor” (Disney’s Mulan: 1998). She goes home feeling like a failure, feeling as though she has let her family down. Now, she starts to struggle with herself, feeling as if she does not fit in anywhere. She realizes that she will never be the perfect bride or daughter. I think deep down inside her, she is still a child at heart and she still has a lot of growing up to do. So, when the Emperor sends out a proclamation that “one man from every family must serve in the Imperial Army” (Disney’s Mulan: 1998), Mulan feels that this could be her chance to bring honor to her family and prove to all of China that she has a place in this world, hence the beginning of her call to adventure.
The third stage of a hero’s journey is refusal of the call and Mulan had no choice but to refuse this call, not because she was not the one being called upon, but of her gender. Back then in China, women had little significance in the world other than to be obedient to their husbands or fathers and caring for their family. They were not allowed to be warriors or soldiers simply because it was not their place in society to. A woman’s place was to stay at home. However, Mulan defies all the traditions of China and disguises herself as a young man named Ping in order to serve in her father’s place. She cuts off her hair and dresses in her father’s old armor. If her disguise was to ever be discovered, she would be convicted of treason and sentenced to death. She sacrifices her own life in order to save her father’s. As Mulan runs off to join the army, she encounters a dragon named Mushu who says he was sent by her ancestors to protect her. He becomes her sidekick throughout her journey and every time he tries to help her, he gets her into more trouble. One instance was when he teaches Mulan how to act like a man to try to fit in with the rest of the soldiers. Instead of helping her, he manages to get her into a few little mishaps, such as starting a brawl among her fellow soldiers. This is when Mulan meets her mentor, Shang, who has just been promoted to captain by General Li. Captain Shang embarks the troops on a long and intense training course, vowing that he will “make a man” (Disney’s Mulan: 1998) out them. Mulan is no longer in her safe ordinary world nor is her father there to protect her and there is no turning back for her now. During the course of this training, Mulan struggles with every exercise that Captain Shang instructs them to do. She cannot keep up with most of her fellow soldiers, simply because she is just not strong enough. Shang eventually tells her to pick up her things and leave. Being kicked out would mean another failure and another disgrace to her family. She tries to prove herself to Shang that she is strong and capable of fighting in this war by being the first to climb up to the top of a pole to retrieve an arrow. Now, she is more determined than ever to complete her training. She not only was she able to complete the training, but earns the respect of Shang and her fellow soldiers as well. The real test comes when the troops are summoned to the frontline and they all realize that they are not in the safe zone of their homes anymore when they come across a village that the Huns have destroyed. Everyone in the village including General Li and his troops were all killed. Now they must face the dangers ahead of them because they know that somewhere along the way, the Huns will be waiting for them. As a matter of fact, when Mushu sets off a rocket and sets off the location of the troops, they discover that they are surrounded by an army of Huns. I think they all realize that they will never survive this attack. There is no way an army that small could survive the attack of hundreds and hundreds of men from the Hun army. Shang tells his men to “prepare to fight, if we die, we die with honor” (Disney’s Mulan: 1998). But, Mulan comes up with a clever idea to cause an avalanche and in the process, comes face to face with Shan-Yu and is wounded by his sword. However, this idea wipes out the entire Hun army and Mulan was able to save the troops including the life of Captain Shang. Due to her injury, her true identity is revealed. Now, they all know that Ping is a woman, Ping is really Mulan. Therefore, they lose their trust and respect for her. Upon this discovery, Mulan is ordered by Shi-Fu, the Emperor’s advisor, to be killed because it is a crime against China for a woman to fight in the army. Instead of killing her, Shang spares her life for saving his life. Mulan’s ordeal does not end here when she discovers that Shan-Yu and five of his men are still alive and are headed towards the Imperial City on a mission to kill the Emperor. She also heads to the city to warn the others, only to be rejected. Shang tells her to go home because she did not belong here. She tries to warn the other villagers that the Emperor is in danger, but with no avail. Everyone just brushed her off, simply because she was a woman again. No one believed her, that is, until Shan-Yu and his men appears and drags the Emperor back into his palace. They barricade the doors to prevent anyone from entering. Again, Mulan saves the day when she comes up with another plan to get inside the palace. She gains the trust of her fellow soldiers again as she leads them inside the palace. The three men, Yao, Chien Po and Ling are dressed as concubines to trick the Huns who are guarding the door to the room the Emperor is in. They succeed and are able to bring the Huns down. Shang is able to get to the Emperor in time but he could not defeat Shang-Yu alone. Mulan sees that he is in trouble and steps in to save him once again by showing Shan-Yu that she was the one single handedly wiped out his entire army and took away his victory. Angered by this, he runs after Mulan and tries to kill her, only to be out smart by her again. Mulan is able to defeat Shang-Yu in front of all of China and saves the entire nation, including the Emperor from the Huns. In addition to saving the country, she is criticized by Chi-Fu who still believes that she does not deserve the recognition. He refers to Mulan as a “creature” as if she was a monster and says that she “is not worth protecting” (Disney’s Mulan: 1998) all because she is a woman. In the end, to everyone’s surprise, the Emperor honors Mulan’s bravery. Everyone in the city, including the Emperor, bows to Mulan for saving them and their country. The Emperor also offers her a position as a member in his council. But, Mulan declines the offer stating that she has been away from home too long and just wants to return to her family. So, the Emperor presents Mulan with the Emperor’s crest so her family will know what she has done for him and the Shan-Yu’s sword so the world will know what she has done for China.
As Mulan returns home, she bestows the sword of Shan-Yu and the crest of the Emperor to her father, telling him that “they’re gifts to honor the Fa family” (Disney’s Mulan: 1998). However, her father does not care for the gifts and tosses them aside. He goes directly to give Mulan a hug and tells her that “the greatest gift and honor” (Disney’s Mulan: 1998) is having her as a daughter. In addition to bringing her family honor, she gains the self-esteem that she had been searching for all along. She conquers her fears and is able to find her place in a world where she does not fit in, a world where women were looked down upon. She finds the courage to step outside society’s norm in order to be herself while bringing honor to her family as well as her country. Not only did she gain confidence but also found love along the way because she won the heart of her mentor, Captain Shang.
Themes in Mythology Throughout Mulan, mythology does play an important role in the film. I can relate to certain mythology themes to the movie. Themes such as Heroes and Tricksters, Plants and Animals and the most important of all, the theme that plays such an important part in Mulan is the theme of Marriage and Kinship.
Heroes and Trickers
Mulan is of course the heroine in this movie. Mark Henn who illustrated Mulan’s character says that “Mualn’s motivation is a lot about honor and self-sacrifice” (Kurtti 1998; 127) and so she struggles throughout the movie to find herself. She wants to bring honor to her family and make them proud, just not the traditional way, which is by marriage. Instead Mulan steels her father’s armor and sneaks off to join the army in her father’s place. She sacrifices her own life to save her father’s. In addition, she saves the Emperor and her country in the process. In the end, she learns that her courage, intelligence and determination offer her a way to bring honor to herself as well as her family. She also gains new friendship, respect and trust among her fellow soldiers including Captain Shang. Not only did she earn the captain’s trust, she also gained his love. Mushu was the biggest trickster in the movie. He was not your usual big fire breathing dragon that everyone thinks. The design of Mushu owes its look to a true Chinese dragon, more graceful and serpentine looking (Kurtti 1998; 144), but he was far from graceful. He was once a guardian spirit for the Fa family but was demoted to an incense burner and gong ringer for the deceased ancestors. Mushu reminded me of Eshu, the most famous trickster figure in African mythology (Willis 1993; 274). Most of Mushu’s situations are quite comical. His tricks included tricking the ancestors into thinking that he was the Great Stone Dragon so he can bring Mulan home safely. He becomes one of Mulan’s close companions throughout her journey. Later on in the movie, he disguises himself as one of General Li’s messenger to trick Chi-Fu into thinking that the General needed help in the frontline in order to send troops to back them up. Mushu’s only motivation here was to send Mulan in the line of duty so he could make her a war hero, thus making the ancestors happy.
Animals and Plants
There were three animals that I thought were significant in the movie, the first one being Khan, Mulan’s horse. He is Mulan’s best friend and the two have a very strong bond. He is a very intelligent horse and is there for Mulan whenever she needs it. He actually protects her more than Mushu does. Khan senses that Mulan is in danger during the avalanche and goes after her to save her from going over the mountains. Another important animal in Chinese mythology is the dragon played by Mushu. The Chinese dragon was believed to ward off evil spirits. It was considered the most sacred animal and used to be the imperial emblem of Chinese emperor, which was shown in the film when the Emperor handed Mulan his crest. You also see a dragon in the victory parade towards the end of the movie. Mulan’s family also had a statue of a dragon in their garden to protect the house and the family. One last animal depicted in this film was Cri-kee, the lucky cricket, given to Mulan by her grandmother for luck. Crickets are considered to be a good luck charm in China, in which the luck of a cricket is suppose to bring protection to a person. Cri-kee actually becomes Mushu’s companion or as veteran Disney animator Barry Temple states, his “steering mechanism” (Kurtti 1998: 149) because Cri-kee actually steers Mushu back in the same direction whenever he feels like giving up or is being selfish. One of the most significant symbols in Mulan is the magnolia tree. After all, the Chinese translation of Mulan’s name means magnolia. When Mulan fails at the matchmaker, she is seen sitting underneath the magnolia tree in the garden. She is joined by her father who points out to one flower that has not blossomed yet and tells Mulan that when it does, it will be the most beautiful one. Here, he refers to his own daughter and assures her that he is not angry with her for ruining things with the matchmaker. He knows that she is still young and naive, just like the single flower bud and when her time comes, it will come. In the end of the movie, Mulan’s father is seen sitting underneath the same tree. This time all the flowers have blossomed and are starting to fall off the tree. This represents Mulan’s journey into adulthood. Before she left for war, she was just a young innocent woman, not yet fully grown and now she has blossomed into a mature intelligent woman who conquered all her fears.
Marriage and Kinship This mythological theme also plays an important part in the movie. Marriage is considered an honorable custom in China. The film begins by showing the audience that there is only one way a woman can bring honor to her family. In Chinese culture, the way a woman can make her family proud and honored is to be suitable for marriage. On the other hand, kinship also plays a very important role in Chinese culture. Family is viewed as a close knit group of both living and deceased relatives. Great emphasis is placed on the respect for elders, especially parents and grandparents, even extending this respect the deceased ancestors. That is why you see the Fa family praying to the ancestors throughout the movie. The movie opens up with Mulan’s father praying to the ancestors in the family shrine to help her impress the matchmaker. Also, before Mulan runs off to join the army, we see her praying to the ancestors as well. Her grandmother also prays to the ancestors to watch over her. Robert Ebert states, “Mulan charts a new direction for Disney’s animation studio, combining the traditional elements (brave heroine, cute animal sidekicks) with material that seems more adventurous and grown up.” I do agree that “Mulan” is filled with action, comedy and full of adventure. I think it is a movie that both adults and children of all ages will love. The film also had several amazing scenes such as the scene where hundreds of Huns are sweeping down the snowy mountains to attack Mulan and the troops. It was amazing how the directors make it look so real, as if you were experiencing the attack first hand. The music also had a very dramatic effect in that scene, making the scene more exciting and fun to watch. This story is also about self-sacrifice in order to find oneself. Mulan wanted to prove to everyone that she could do things right and that you do not have to be a male to be strong, intelligent and brave. Bob Strauss of the Boston Globe writes “I think Mulan celebrates the importance of an individual. Mulan shows what a difference one person can make.” I agree with Strauss because one person can make quite a difference in the world. I think Mulan can teach young girls that they can be something or do anything. With strength, perseverance, intelligence and courage, a person can overcome any obstacles in their way. Mulan overcame many obstacles to prove to herself and everyone else that she was capable of doing anything. I think it is a movie that both children and adults will enjoy and learn some valuable lessons in life.

Works Cited
Ebert, Roger. “Mulan.” 1998 http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19980619/REVIEWS/806190302/102
Kurtti, Jeff. The Art of Mulan. New York: Hyperion, 1998.
Skinner, G. William. The Study of Chinese Society. California: Stanford University Press, 1979.
Strauss, Bob. “Disney Tries Its Hands At Chinese Storytelling.” Boston Globe, 1998.
Willis, Roy. World Mythology. New York: An Owl Book Henry Holdt and Company, 1996.
Websites:
http://www.beijingservice.com/beijinghighlights/chinesedragon.htm
http://www.whats-your-sign.com/good-luck-symbols-animals.html…...

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