I love this movie and I love this character. Mulan is amazing. She is smart and brave. She is motivated by love, but not romantic love. She saves her father and upholds her family’s honor. She saves China by pretending to be a man, but saves the Emperor by being herself. Mulan is everything I want in a female character. She has her own agency and a full and complete life outside the relationship she has with Shang.
Disney writers again created a world inhabited entirely by men, however in this case it works. Mulan’s story moves her from her normal life, inhabited almost entirely by women, into the world of war, a world populated by men. It is her difference from those around her that allows her to think creatively to conquer obstacles. It is her removal from her regular life that enables her to become fully herself, not bound by the restrictions that society placed on her.
It would have been nice to have more female voices in the story. Considering how much time Mulan was going to spend with men, it would have made sense to make her sidekick female. There was nothing about the character of Mushu that required the little dragon to be male. Eddie Murphy did a wonderful job with the character, but there are any number of female comics that could have done just as well. In spite of the lack of female voice, the movie works as a positive example for girls.
Mulan never changes who she is as a person. She learns new skills, but does not change herself in any way other than to protect her identity. She changes her clothes, not her character. But best of all, when she returns home to her family the honors and accolades she has earned mean less to them than her safe return. She is loved no more or less than when she left. She saves her world and instead of accepting power, glory, or position she simply goes home. She is a warrior and a strategist. Girls could have a much worse role model.
I’m not quite sure how Mulan became a princess. She is not royal and doesn’t marry into royalty. Even if she did eventually end up marrying Shang, he is not royal. Perhaps Disney needs to realize that there is more to aspire to than simply being a princess.
The numbers are mixed.
Bechdel test*: Most of the women are not named, unfortunately. Only Mulan and her mother, Fa Li have names rather than titles. However, all these women talk to each other and they talk about things that are important; family, honor, and Mulan herself not men. Result: PASS
Percent of words spoken by women**: 23%. Mulan spends most of her time occupying a man’s place in a man’s world. Unsurprisingly, most of the words spoken are by men. Once again, a female sidekick would have made a huge difference in this number.
*The Bechdel Test evaluates film based on whether there are at least two named women who talk to each other about something other than a man.
** The data comes from linguists Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer, who have been working on a project to analyze all the dialogue from the Disney princess movies. The project was reported in The Washington Post by Jeff Guo.