Mulan (Disney character)
|First appearance||Mulan (1998)|
|Last appearance||Mulan II (2004)|
|Created by||Robert D. San Souci|
|Voiced by||Ming-Na Wen (speaking)
Lea Salonga (singing)
|Family||Fa Zhou (father)
Fa Li (mother)
Grandmother Fa (grandmother)
|Relatives||First Ancestor Fa|
Fa Mulan is a fictional character who appears in Walt Disney Pictures' 36th animated feature film Mulan (1998) and its sequel Mulan II (2004). In all animated appearances, Mulan is voiced by Chinese-American actress Ming-Na Wen in her voice-acting debut and Filipina singer and actress Lea Salonga, with Wen providing the character's speaking voice and Salonga dubbing her respective singing voice.
Created by author Robert D. San Souci and animated by Mark Henn, Mulan is based on the legendary Hua Mulan from the ancient Chinese poem the Ballad of Mulan. In the Disney film adaptation, Mulan, the spirited daughter of an elderly war veteran, fears that she will never bring honor to her family. When her ailing father conscripted by the Imperial army to defend the country against the invading Huns, Mulan, knowing that her aging father is incapable of surviving another war, decides to violate the law by disguising herself as a man and enlisting herself in the army as a soldier.
Mulan has garnered a mostly positive reception from film critics, who praised her personality, independence, heroism and feminism.
The concept of Mulan originated from children's book author Robert D. San Souci, who penned the film's story. While exploring and developing a series of traditional stories, fairy tales and folktales from around the world, San Souci discovered the ancient Chinese poem the Ballad of Mulan, which tells the story of the legendary Hua Mulan, a young Chinese woman who disguises herself as a soldier in order to replace her elderly father in the Imperial army. San Souci explained that, as a writer, "[Hua Mulan's] story fascinated me." Thematically, Mulan explores the age-old idea of remaining "true to yourself", with co-directors Tony Bancroft summarizing Mulan's role in the film as "the story of a girl who can't help who she is but she exists in a different society that tells her who she is supposed to be".
Because the Ballad of Mulan is "so well known and so beloved", San Souci aspired to "keep ... the integrity of this heroine". However, certain liberties were taken with the story pertaining to Mulan's role in the film. For instance, in the original poem, the character first seeks permission from her parents before enlisting herself in the army, an element that is deliberately excluded from the final film. In addition to this, unlike several preceding Disney animated feature films, the developing romantic relationship between Mulan and Li Shang is featured as more of a subplot as opposed to a central plot, as observed by film critic Andy Klein of Animation World Network. Klein commented in his detailed analysis of the character, "Mulan isn't waiting for her prince to someday come; when he does arrive, having known her primarily as a man, and having learned to admire her for her deeper qualities, the romance is muted and subtle."
Mulan's speaking voice is provided by Chinese-born American actress Ming-Na Wen. Because the character "represented [traditional] Chinese values", being depicted as "dramatic ... close to her father, very respectful", Bancroft believed that Wen had the "perfect" voice for Mulan, which he additionally described as "very Chinese". Born in Macau, China, Wen was very much familiar with both the legend of Hua Mulan and the Ballad of Mulan at the time of her audition, having grown up hearing the poem from her mother, explaining, "I think every Chinese kid grows up with this story." Additionally, the actress likened the poem's popularity in China to that of the Western fable written by author Parson Weems in which American president George Washington is depicted chopping down his father's beloved cherry tree.
Mulan served as Wen's first voice-acting role. In an interview with IGN, Wen spoke of the recording process and the fact that she was made to record most of her dialogue in isolation, saying, "I just loved the story so much and identified so much with the character of Mulan it was easy for me. I loved using my imagination. I felt like I was a little kid again, being silly with an imaginary sword and riding on an imaginary horse and talking to an imaginary dragon. So it was a lot of fun for me." In spite of the fact that Mulan shares several of the film's scenes with Mushu, voiced by American actor and comedian Eddie Murphy, Wen and Murphy never physically encountered each other while recording their dialogue for Mulan.
Upon being cast, Wen was immediately informed by Disney that she would not be providing Mulan's singing voice in addition to the character's speaking voice. She said jokingly, "I don't blame them". Subsequently, the directors hired Filipina singer and actress Lea Salonga to dub the character's singing voice on Wen's behalf. Originally, Salonga was to provide bot Mulan's speaking and singing voices. However, the directors that her attempt at impersonating a man was not convincing enough and ultimately replaced her with Wen. Six years prior to Mulan, Salonga provided the singing voice of Princess Jasmine in Disney's Aladdin (1992) on behalf of American actress Linda Larkin. While auditioning for Mulan, Salonga asked jokingly, "Why do I have to audition? ... I was already a princess before. Wasn't that enough?"
Characterization and design
The screenplay was constantly being re-written and revised, and Mulan's role and characterization along with it. San Souci and the film's waters wanted Mulan to be depicted as a distinctly "different kind of Disney heroine", specifically described as one who "didn’t need a tiara, but was still just as much as graceful, strong, and courageous". Between them, Bancroft and his twin brother, animator Tom, have a total of daughters. This inspired the filmmakers to create a unique Disney heroine who is "not another damsel in distress" in favor of having the character resemble "a strong female Disney character who would truly be the heroine of her own story", essentially a "female role model. The characteristics of strength and courage were a must for Mulan." In an interview with The Christian Post, Bancroft elaborated on the way in which he continued to keep his two young daughters in mind while directing Mulan, having "wanted to make ... a unique heroine that hadn't been seen before" and provide for them "someone who would be strong on her own, without a prince saving her." Explaining the way in which Mulan differs from traditional Disney heroines, Bancroft said, "Most Disney heroines have an outside source that comes in and helps them change. Mulan stays consistent. From the first frame all the way through the end of the movie, her personality, her drive it all stays the same." Additionally, the character's surname is changed from"Hua" to "Fa".
|"When we drew her, we had the opportunity to actually adjust her design a little bit so that when she was disguised as Ping, as a soldier, that she was physically a little different in how we drew her than when she was herself as Mulan ... That was something we took advantage of. So, certainly, that was a challenge to have her disguised as a boy whereas she’s still a girl who doesn’t understand what being a boy is all about or about boys move and act, and that’s part of how she learns ... that was part of the fun and the challenge of doing Mulan. You have essentially two characters to play with."|
|— Henn, on animating Mulan as "Ping".|
Visually, the animators drew creative influence from both the traditional Chinese and Japanese styles of artwork. Specifically in the case of Mulan, "The characters' simple lines ... resemble classic Asian painting", as demonstrated by an innovative "'less is more' approach" to traditional animation. Chinese artist Chen Yi served as a mentor to the animators, "helping [them] to come up with these designs." Mark Henn served as Mulan's supervising animator. Animating the character as a man proposed a unique, unprecedented challenge for Henn. In order to solve this, Henn took advantage of the "the opportunity to ... adjust her design a little bit so that when she was disguised as Ping, as a soldier, that she was physically a little different in how we drew her than when she was herself as Mulan."
Henn said that he was drawn to "Mulan’s story [because it] was so unique and compelling that It [sic] just captivated me from the beginning". Animating the characters' emotions in the traditional Chinese style proved to be somewhat of a "struggle" for Henn. He explained, "We don’t create realism in the sense that if you’re doing a human character, it’s not going to look realistic ... the balance is finding an appealing way of drawing using the visual tools that you have in the design to convey the believable emotions that you want to get across." In addition to Mulan, Henn was also responsible for animating Fa Zhou, Mulan's elderly father, describing the complex relationship between the two characters as "the emotional heart of the story". Himself a father to one daughter, Henn drew inspiration from his own emotions and past experiences while animating intimate scenes shared by the two characters.
The Huns, led by Shan Yu, invade Han China, forcing the Chinese emperor to command a general mobilization. The emperor requires one man from each family to join the Chinese army. When Fa Mulan hears that her elderly father Fa Zhou, the only man in their family, is forced to join the army, she decides to stand in his place, disguising herself as a young man named "Ping". Fa Zhou learns that Mulan has taken his place and prays to his family's ancestors, who order their "Great Stone Dragon" to protect her. The ancestors are unaware that the statue of Great Stone Dragon failed to come to life, and that Mushu, a small dragon is the one to go and protect Mulan.
Mulan is initially misguided by Mushu in how to behave like a man. However, under command of Li Shang, she and her new friends at the camp, Yao, Ling and Chien-Po, become skilled warriors. Mushu, desiring to see Mulan succeed, creates a fake order from Li Shang's father, General Li, ordering Li Shang to follow them into the mountains. They arrive at a burnt-out village and discover that General Li and his forces have been wiped out by the Huns. As they solemnly leave the mountains, they are ambushed by the Huns when Mushu accidentally fired a cannon causing their position to be given away, but a second firing of a cannon by Mulan buries most of the enemy forces in an avalanche. Mulan is slashed by Shan Yu in his rage at her wiping out his army during the battle, and she is forced to reveal her deception when she receives medical attention. Instead of executing Mulan as the law requires, Li Shang decides to spare her life by leaving her on the mountain as the rest of the army departs for the Imperial City to report the news of the Huns' demise. However, the avalanche failed to eliminate all the enemies, as Mulan catches sight of a small number of surviving Huns, including Shan Yu, making their way to the City, intent on capturing the Emperor.
In the Imperial City, Mulan attempts to warn Li Shang about Shan Yu, but he refuses to listen. The Huns appear and capture the Emperor, locking themselves inside the palace. With Mulan's help, Li Shang, Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po pose as concubines and are able to enter the palace and defeat Shan Yu's men. As Shang prevents Shan Yu from assassinating the Emperor, Mulan lures the Hun onto the roof where she engages him in single combat. Meanwhile, acting on Mulan's instructions, Mushu fires a bundle of fireworks rockets at Shan Yu on her signal and kills him.
Mulan is praised by the Emperor and the people of China, who all bow to her, an unprecedented honor. Mulan accepts the Emperor's crest and Shan Yu's sword as gifts, but politely declines his offer to be his advisor and instead asks to return to her family. She returns home and presents the imperial gifts to her father, but he is more overjoyed to have his daughter back safely. Li Shang, who has become enamored with Mulan, soon arrives under the guise of returning her helmet, but accepts the family's invitation for dinner. Earlier in the film, Mulan was declared unfit for marriage, but this now appears not to be the case with her strong budding romance with Li Shang. Mushu is granted a position as a Fa family guardian by the ancestors amid a returning celebration.
The sequel finds Mulan and Li Shang preparing to marry but distracted by a task from the Emperor, who wants his three daughters escorted to their own marriage ceremony. Their romantic relationship becomes somewhat strained during the trip, as the romantic couple has differing views on various issues. Meanwhile, Mushu realizes that if Mulan marries Shang, she will not need him anymore as her guardian spirit. Taking advantage of this, he manages to trick the two into breaking up. When bandits attack, Mulan and Shang fight them off, but Mulan is devastated when Shang is seemingly killed trying to save her. To make sure the three princesses are not forced to marry against their will, Mulan takes their place marrying the eldest son of the ruler of the neighboring land. Shang survives the accident and arrives in time to stop the wedding but ultimately Mulan is saved by Mushu who, posing as the mighty Golden Dragon of Unity, frees the three princesses from their vows, and marries Mulan and Li Shang himself causing Mulan to forgive him for his actions.
Mulan is a member of the Disney Princess franchise, a media franchise marketed towards young girls. Her biography featured on the Disney Princess website reads, "Mulan is a loving girl who is always brave and bold. When her country needs it most, she disguises herself as a man and goes off to fight. She uses courage and determination to win the day."
Mulan appears as a playable character in Disney's Story Studio: Mulan, an action-oriented video game loosely based on the film. Released in December 1999 by Disney Interactive Studios for PlayStation, "Players ... assume the role of Mulan on her quest to recover the missing scrolls".
Mulan, still voiced by Ming-Na, makes an appearance in Kingdom Hearts II as part of the Land of the Dragons world. She aids Sora in battle, taking the place of either Donald or Goofy. She uses a jian called "Sword of the Ancestor" for regular combat, and her combination attacks include Red Rocket and other fire attacks, thanks to Mushu. She goes under her pseudonym (Ping) for the majority of Sora's first visit to her world, but has abandoned it by the time of their second visit, which follows an original storyline.
Mulan appears regularly for meet-and-greets, parades and shows at the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Mulan and Mushu (as a kite) make cameo appearances in the Hong Kong Disneyland, Disneyland Resort versions of It's a Small World, and at the Chinese Pavilion at Epcot in Walt Disney World.
On the Disney Cruise Line ships and in Hong Kong Disneyland, Mulan and Li Shang appear in the stage show The Golden Mickeys. Mulan is also known to come out for meet-and-greets on the ships as well. She is also featured in the Disney on Ice shows Princess Classics and Princess Wishes, as a princess, despite her lack of royal ties.
Mulan makes cameo appearances in the Disney's House of Mouse television series and the direct-to-video release Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse. She was scheduled to appear in the second installment of the Disney Princess Enchanted Tales series of DVDs along with Cinderella. It was to premiere in 2008 but was cancelled due to poor sales of the first DVD. In addition, Mulan is, naturally, in the Disney's Mulan Jr. musical stage adaptation of the original film.
Actress Jamie Chung plays a live-action version of Mulan in the second and third seasons of the ABC television series, Once Upon a Time. She first appeared in the season premiere, "Broken", assisting Prince Phillip in rescuing Aurora. The Once Upon a Time version of Mulan differs from the film version by being depicted as lesbian and in love with Aurora, as revealed in the 2013 episode "Quite a Common Fairy".
Reception and legacy
Mulan has garnered a mostly positive reception from film critics, some of whom have hailed her as "the most three-dimensional Disney lead in a decade" and "a good role model for kids." Time Out labeled Mulan "A feisty young go-getter [who] rises above the male-dominated world in which she lives". Similarly, Ken Fox of TV Guide commented, "Intelligent and fiercely independent, Mulan ... runs afoul of social expectations that a woman will be always obedient and duty-bound to her husband." Bridget Byrne of Boxoffice wrote, "The physical and dramatic energy of ... Mulan, the warrior maiden ... almost triumph over the old-fashioned forces of Disney tradition." Byrne continued, "Mulan ... has pride, charm, spirit and aesthetic appeal which prevents her from being upstaged by the vigorous and exciting action in which she participates full throttle." Variety's Todd McCarthy lauded Mulan, writing that the character represents "a turn of the circle from such age-old Disney classics ... in which passive heroines were rescued by blandly noble princes. Here, it’s the girl who does the rescuing, saving not only the prince but the emperor himself from oblivion, and this in a distant culture where women were expected to obey strictly prescribed rules." Margaret A. McGurk of The Cincinnati Inquirer praised Mulan for "solv[ing] her G.I. Jane dilemma by proving that brains can do more than brawn." Hailing the character as "Among the strongest heroines in Walt's cartoon canon", Ian Freer of Empire wrote, "Mulan's engaging mixture of vulnerability and derring-do becomes incredibly easy to root for". Additionally, Freer commented, "While brimming over with 90s concerns - raising issues of female empowerment, women in the military, cross-dressing - Mulan rarely loses sight of its timeless folklore quality." Hollis Chacona of The Austin Chronicle wrote that "smart, brave, beautiful, and (it's about time!)", Mulan is a "winning protagonist."
Although generally well-liked, the character was not void of criticism. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman wrote Mulan a fairly positive review: "Far more than Beauty and the Beast or the stolidly virtuous Pocahontas, Mulan showcases a girl who gets to use her wits. As the Huns attack, she grabs a cannon, fires at a snowy mountain, and causes a strategic avalanche—a visually bold moment that's also a testament to the power of mind over brawn." However, Gleiberman continued less positively, "If Mulan finally falls a notch short of Disney's best, that's because the heroine's empowerment remains, in essence, an emotionally isolated quest." Moira Macdonald of The Seattle Times wrote Mulan a fairly mixed to positive review, describing Mulan as "a strong, engaging character who, unlike many of her Disney counterparts, needs no one to rescue her from danger." However, the reviewer went on to question Mulan's characterization, writing, "was it really necessary to bestow Mulan with self-esteem problems? Because she seems so confident and intelligent, her sad statement that she wants to 'see something worthwhile' in the mirror comes as a bit of a shock." Another mixed review was written by The Phoenix's Jeffrey Gantz. While describing Mulan herself as "The best thing about Mulan", Gantz felt that her portrayal was far too familiar, inaccurate and Westernized, writing, "The costumes (particularly the kimono and obi Mulan wears to the Matchmaker) and hairdos look Japanese ... Give Mulan Native American features and you have Pocahontas". Similarly, James Berardinelli of ReelViews reviewed, "The main character is cut from a familiar cloth. Although she looks different from Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, and Pocahontas, Mulan is very much the same type of individual: a woman with a strong, independent streak who is unwilling to bend to the customs of her culture, which decree that the role of the female is to be ornamental. The film isn't very subtle in reinforcing the idea of equality between the sexes".
Reception towards the relationship between Mulan and Shang has also been mixed. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, "The message here is standard feminist empowerment: Defy the matchmaker, dress as a boy, and choose your own career. But Mulan has it both ways, since inevitably Mulan's heart goes pitty-pat over Shang, the handsome young captain she's assigned to serve under. The movie breaks with the tradition in which the male hero rescues the heroine, but is still totally sold on the Western idea of romantic love." The New York Times' Janet Maslin opined, "For all of Mulan's courage and independence in rebelling against the matchmakers, this is still enough of a fairy tale to need Mr. Right." Writing for Beyond Adaptation: Essays on Radical Transformations of Original Works, Lan Dong wrote, "Even though Mulan achieves success after she resumes her female self ... it is compromised by Mulan and Li Shang's potential engagement at the end of the film."
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