Mulan (Disney character)
|First appearance||Mulan (1998)|
|Last appearance||Sofia the First (2014)|
|Created by||Robert D. San Souci
Mark Henn (supervising animator)
|Voiced by||Ming-Na Wen (speaking)
Lea Salonga (singing)
|Full name||Fa Mulan|
|Title||The Hero of China|
|Family||Fa Zhou (father)
Fa Li (mother)
|Children||Li Lonnie (daughter; in Descendants only)|
|Relatives||Grandmother Fa (grandmother)
Fa Mulan is a fictional character who appears in Walt Disney Pictures' 36th animated feature film Mulan (1998) and its sequel Mulan II (2004). Chinese-American actress Ming-Na Wen provides the character's speaking voice and Filipina singer Lea Salonga provides her singing voice. Originally, Salonga had been cast as both the speaking and singing voices of Mulan until the directors, dissatisfied with singer's impersonation of Mulan's male alter-ego, ultimately replaced her with Wen who, according to co-director Tony Bancroft, sounds "very Chinese." The role was Wen's voice-acting debut.
Created by Robert D. San Souci and animated by Mark Henn, the character is loosely based on Hua Mulan from the ancient Chinese poem the Ballad of Mulan. In the Disney film adaptation, Mulan is depicted as the spirited and tomboyish daughter of an elderly war veteran. Having been deemed unsuitable for marriage by the Matchmaker, Mulan lives in fear of dishonoring her parents. When her aging father is conscripted by the Chinese military in an attempt to defend the country against the invading Huns, Mulan aware that her injured and feeble father is incapable of surviving another war, ultimately decides to breach tradition, violating the law by disguising herself as a man in order to masquerade as a soldier and enlist herself in the army in her father's place.
Inspired by the well-being of his own two daughters, director Tony Bancroft encouraged the filmmakers and writers to characterize Mulan as a distinctly different and unique kind of Disney heroine, specifically one who is strong, independent and self-sufficient, and whose fate is ultimately not dependent on a male character. Physically, Henn additionally designed Mulan to appear less feminine than traditional Disney animated heroines.
Reception towards Mulan has been varied but mostly positive, with film critics praising her personality and heroism. However, some critics have reacted much less positively towards Mulan's characterization, deeming her a familiar and "Westernized" character. Additionally, critical reception towards the character's relationship with Li Shang has also been largely unfavorable, with several critics citing that Mulan's independence and heroism was ultimately compromised by the film's romantic conclusion. Chronologically, Mulan is the 8th official member of the Disney Princess franchise. She is also the franchise's first East Asian princess. Critics have observed several ways in which Mulan and her role in the film differs from those of traditional Disney Princesses, drawing similarities between Mulan and preceding Disney Princesses Ariel from The Little Mermaid (1989), Belle from Beauty and the Beast (1991), Jasmine from Aladdin (1992) and Pocahontas from Pocahontas (1995).
Mulan was originally conceived in 1994 as an animated short film entitled China Doll, in which the heroine was initially supposed to have been depicted as "an oppressed and miserable Chinese girl who is whisked away by a British Prince Charming to happiness in the West." While researching, exploring and developing a series of traditional stories, fairy tales and folktales, award-winning children's book author and Disney story consultant Robert D. San Souci uncovered the Ballad of Mulan, an ancient Chinese poem conveying the story of Hua Mulan—a young Chinese woman who takes her ailing father's place in battle by disguising herself as a man. San Souci explained that, as a writer, "[Hua Mulan's] story fascinated me," and suggested to Disney that the studio ultimately combines the two stories. San Souci himself was hired to write the film's treatment and story.
Thematically, Mulan explores the age-old idea and concept of remaining "true to yourself," with co-director 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." San Souci wanted to "keep ... the integrity of this heroine," as the Ballad of Mulan is "so well known and so beloved". However, certain creative liberties were taken with the story specifically pertaining to Mulan's role. For example, in the original poem, Mulan first seeks permission from her rather supportive parents prior to enlisting herself in the army, whereas in the film she runs away from home as they sleep, and her surname was also changed from "Hua" to "Fa." Most notably, Mulan's true identity as a woman is revealed in the Disney film adaptation much earlier than it is in the poem; in the film her gender is discovered after the army's initial encounter with the enemy, whereas in the legend her comrades never discovered who she was in their twelve years at war, and only realized the truth after she had returned home.
In addition, unlike preceding traditional Disney animated feature films, the developing romantic relationship between Mulan and Li Shang is treated as more of a subplot as opposed to a traditional central plot, as observed by film critic Andy Klein of Animation World Network. Klein commented, "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-American actress Ming-Na Wen. Because the character "represented [traditional] Chinese values" and is depicted as being "dramatic ... close to her father, very respectful," Bancroft believed that Wen possessed the "perfect" voice for Mulan, which he additionally described as "very Chinese." Born and raised 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 for the role, having grown up being read the poem by her mother. Wen explained, "I think every Chinese kid grows up with this story," additionally likening the poem's popularity in China to that of the Western Parson Weems fable in which American president George Washington chops down his father's beloved cherry tree.
Mulan served as Wen's first voice-acting role. In an interview with IGN, the actress elaborated on the recording process, specifically the fact that she was required to record the majority of the character's 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, throughout the film, Mulan shares several intimate scenes with her guardian, a miniature Chinese dragon named Mushu who is voiced by American actor and comedian Eddie Murphy, Wen and her co-star never actually encountered each other while working on Mulan due to the fact that they recorded their respective dialogue at separate times in separate locations.
Upon being cast as Mulan's speaking voice, Wen was immediately informed by Disney that she would not be providing the character's singing voice. The actress took no offense to this decision, commenting jokingly "I don't blame them." The directors hired Filipina singer and actress Lea Salonga to dub the character's respective singing voice, heard in the film's songs "Reflection", "I'll Make a Man Out of You" and "A Girl Worth Fighting For", on Wen's behalf. According to Thomas S. Hischak, author of the book Disney Voice Actors: A Biographical Dictionary, Salonga was originally cast to provide both Mulan's speaking and singing voices. However, the directors eventually felt that her attempt at impersonating a man in the form of Mulan's male alter-ego "Ping" was rather unconvincing, and ultimately replacing Salonga 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, design and analysis
The film's screenplay was constantly being revised and re-written. Naturally, so was Mulan's characterization and role in the film. The writers wanted Mulan to represent a "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 the two, Bancroft and his twin brother Tom, an animator who also worked on Mulan, have a total of seven daughters. This further inspired the filmmakers to portray Mulan as a unique heroine who is "not another damsel in distress" in favor of having her resemble "a strong female Disney character who would truly be the heroine of her own story" instead, 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, as the film's director, continued to consider the well-being of his two young daughters while working on 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." Addressing the way in which Mulan differs from traditional Disney heroines and princesses, Bancroft explained, "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."
|"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 were influenced by both traditional Chinese and Japanese artwork. In the specific case of Mulan, "The characters' simple lines ... resemble classic Asian painting", as demonstrated by the animators' innovate "'less is more' approach" to traditional animation. Chinese artist Chen Yi mentored the animators, "helping [them] to come up with these designs." Mark Henn served as Mulan's supervising animator. Animating the character in her male disguise as "Ping" offered an unprecedented challenge for Henn. In order to solve this unique dilemma, Henn was provided with "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." Physically, Mulan was also designed to appear less feminine than preceding traditional Disney animated heroines, specifically Pocahontas from Pocahontas (1995) and Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), because "you can't pass as a man in the army with a Barbie-style figure."
Henn revealed that he was drawn to "Mulan's story [because it] was so unique and compelling that it just captivated me from the beginning". Animating the characters' distinct emotions using the traditional Chinese style turned out to be somewhat challenging for Henn. The animator 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. He described the complex relationship between the two characters as "the emotional heart of the story". Fathering one daughter himself, Henn drew inspiration from his own emotions as well as past personal experiences while animating several intimate scenes shared by the two characters.
Several film critics have described Mulan as a tomboy. Andy Patrizio of IGN observed, "In this slightly modernized version of the story, Mulan ... is something of a rebel and a tomboy. She has no interest in being a good little subservient wife, despite her sighing parents' wishes." Jo Johnson, in contribution to the book Queers in American Popular Culture Volume 1: Film and Television, wrote that "Unlike other Disney heroines, Mulan is immediately coded as a tomboy," observing the way in which the character speaks using a full mouth. Johnson additionally noticed several ways in which Mulan's design and personality differ from those typically associated with traditional Disney heroines and princesses, citing the character's clumsy, awkward demeanor; broad shoulders and muscular limbs; unruly single strand of hair; and choice of everyday attire which usually consists of loose, baggy clothing concealing her "traditionally slim Disney waist." Additionally, Mulan's intelligence has been observed in several professional analyses, with critics often citing the character as "brainy."
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 rejoin the army, she decides to stand in his place, disguising herself as a young man named "Ping". Mulan's family learns that she has taken Fa Zhou's place and pray to their family ancestors, who then 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 Hans 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 states, Li Shang spares her life for saving his life from the avalanche 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 the eighth official member the Disney Princess franchise, a media franchise marketed towards young girls. Featured on the official Disney Princess website, the character's brief biography 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." Interestingly, Mulan is currently the only official member of the Disney Princess franchise who is technically not a legitimate princess "in the traditional sense" because of the fact that she was not born the daughter of a king or queen, nor does she become princess consort by marrying a prince. Additionally, she is also the franchise's first and currently only East Asian member.
Mulan appears as a playable character in Disney's Story Studio: Mulan, an action video game released in December 1999 by Disney Interactive Studios exclusively for the video game console Sony PlayStation. Loosely based on the plot of the original animated film, the video game's concept and premise revolves around "Players ... assum[ing] the role of Mulan on her quest to recover the missing scrolls." Mulan also appears as a playable character in Disney's Mulan, a similar video game released the previous year on October 10, 1998 by THQ for Nintendo Game Boy. Additionally, Mulan appears in the video game Kingdom Hearts II in 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 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.
Mulan appears regularly for meet-and-greets, parades and shows at the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, including at the Chinese Pavilion at Epcot. Mulan and Mushu, as a kite, make cameo appearances in the Hong Kong Disneyland and Disneyland Resort versions of It's a Small World. In Disneyland, she also makes appearances in the Disney Princess Fantasy Faire Village and regularly performs in the new show Mickey and the Magical Map in the Fantasyland Theater. In the aforementioned show, she performs a trio with fellow Disney Princesses Pocahontas and Rapunzel. As a tribute, there is a portrait of her along other Disney Princesses at the Princess Fairytale Hall at the Magic Kingdom.
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.
Actress Jamie Chung portrays 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 series' second season premiere, "Broken", assisting Prince Phillip in rescuing Aurora. The Once Upon a Time version of Mulan differs from the film version as she is in love with Aurora, as revealed in the 2013 episode "Quite a Common Fairy".
On August 2014, Ming-Na Wen and Lea Salonga reprise their roles as Mulan for the first time since Mulan 2 in the Disney Channel show Sofia the First. In the episode "Princesses To The Rescue," Mulan reminds Sofia and her friends Amber and Jun they are "Stronger Than They Know" in song. Mulan is the 7th Disney princess to appear on the show.
Reception and legacy
As a character, critical reception towards Mulan has been varied but generally positive. Time Out described Mulan as "A feisty young go-getter [who] rises above the male-dominated world in which she lives." Similarly, Ken Fox of TV Guide wrote, "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 commented, "The physical and dramatic energy of ... Mulan ... 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." Variety's Todd McCarthy praised the character for inspiring "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." Similarly, Margaret A. McGurk of The Cincinnati Inquirer lauded 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 enthused, "Mulan's engaging mixture of vulnerability and derring-do becomes incredibly easy to root for." Hollis Chacona of The Austin Chronicle wrote that "smart, brave, beautiful," Mulan is a "winning protagonist." Likewise, the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan wrote, "As a vivacious rebel who has to be true to herself no matter what, Mulan is an excellent heroine, perfect for the young female demographic the studio is most anxious to attract." Turan additionally stated, "this resourceful, can-do young woman is a more likable and resourceful role model than Pocahontas was."
Although largely well-liked, Mulan's characterization has drawn some mild criticism and speculation, inspiring a series of generally mixed to positive reviews from some film critics. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman wrote, "Far more than Beauty and the Beast or the stolidly virtuous Pocahontas, Mulan showcases a girl who gets to use her wits ... a testament to the power of mind over brawn." However, Gleiberman continued, "Mulan finally falls a notch short of Disney's best ... because the heroine's empowerment remains ... an emotionally isolated quest." Similarly, Moira Macdonald of The Seattle Times hailed Mulan as "a strong, engaging character who, unlike many of her Disney counterparts, needs no one to rescue her from danger," while questioning her personality, asking, "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."
Critics were not unanimous in their praise. The Phoenix's Jeffrey Gantz felt that character was unoriginal, inaccurate and Westernized, writing, "[her] 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 felt that the character's depiction was too "familiar," reviewing, "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". Additionally, some critics, such as Alex von Tunzelmann of The Guardian, have criticized Mulan for her violence, writing, "Disney struggles to make Mulan both a killer and a heroine ... Gingerly, the film attempts to tread a middle path, implying that Mulan annihilates most of the Hun army by causing an avalanche, and having her dispatch Shan Yu with a load of fireworks. Very pretty. But still technically killing." However, von Tunzelmann did conclude more positively, "as Disney heroines go, Mulan herself is a clear improvement on the standard-issue drippy princess."
Relationship with Shang
Unlike the generally positive reviews received by Mulan, critical reception towards the character's romantic relationship with Li Shang has been largely negative, drawing much speculation from critics who accused Mulan of having "a typical girl-hooks-up-with-boy ending." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times observed, "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 negatively 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."
"Mulan has been hailed as a feminist Disney movie because it showcases a young woman who leads China to victory using her quick wit, pride, and a strong sense of family honor—all while masquerading as a man named Ping. Even though Mulan (as Ping) gains the respect of the army commander and her comrades, once they discover that she is a woman, her army commander and potential love-interest, Shang, loses respect for her and even hates her. "Ping" had been doing an even better job than Shang, but when Shang finds out Ping is a woman, his stupid male ego breaks on impact. Mulan is sentenced to death, and Shang, the macho man of the film, ultimately gets to decide her fate. The only reason she survives is because Shang decides he'd rather just send her home. Wow. To add insult to injury, at the end of the film, Shang fixes up his shattered ego by claiming Mulan as a suitor. Even as Mulan is being praised and cheered in the Forbidden City after she almost single-handedly saves China (this time, as a woman), at the end of the film, the audience is reminded that Mulan is really just another woman looking for a man. Mulan's real victory isn't saving her country from invasion. No, it's marrying Shang."
Betsy Wallace of Common Sense Media observed that Mulan "doesn't fit the princess mold, and most moviegoers had never heard of her." Conclusively, Wallace wrote, "it's too bad that in the end she still needs to be married off to a 'Prince Charming' who saves the day." In contribution to the book 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."
Cultural significance and accolades
Mulan is culturally recognized for her unique role in Mulan specifically in regards to the character's heroism, ethnicity and disinterest in romance, serving as a departure from traditional Disney heroines and princesses because she "challenged gender stereotypes and offered up an animated Disney experience that isn't princess-centric" as "one of the few strong, self-propelled female characters that Disney has." Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times observed the way in which Mulan's role in the film as "an independent, not completely boy-crazy heroine is somewhat new for Disney." According to Sara Veal of The Jakarta Post, Mulan "promotes self-reliance, determination and is uninterested in marriage or romance ... the film ends on her saving her country, rather than a romantic resolution." Succeeding non-white Disney Princesses Jasmine and Pocahontas, Mulan's characterization as Disney's first East Asian princess assisted in the diversification of the Disney Princess franchise, introducing "Disney princesses ... portrayed as women of color." Peter Travers of the Rolling Stone commented, "Mulan ... makes a feisty prefeminist," continuing, "She doesn't swoon over Captain Shang, the hunky officer ... which leaves Shang ... frustrated ... Mulan, let the record show, does not put out." PopMatters' Jesse Hassenger wrote that unlike other Disney films, "Mulan holds the advantage of a smart, strong heroine—not just a superhot princess figure." Ryan Mazie of Box Office Prophets felt that Mulan "might be the most important and forward-thinking Disney Princess movie made up until that point where the female character solely takes control over her own destiny without the aid of a mighty Prince."
In 2012, CNN's Stephanie Goldberg recognized Mulan as one of Disney's bravest and most heroic animated heroines to-date in her article "Brave's Merida and other animated heroines," writing, "Mulan bent traditional gender roles when she took her father's place in the Chinese army." The Georgia Institute of Technology ranked Mulan the fourteenth greatest Disney character of all-time. Similarly, in 2013, Mulan was ranked the greatest animated Disney heroine according to a poll conducted by Jim Vejvoda of IGN.
In 1999, Mulan's theme song "Reflection", performed by Mulan, was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song at the 56th Golden Globe Awards, but ultimately lost to Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli's "The Prayer" from Quest for Camelot (1998). "Reflection" is often accredited with establishing the successful musical career of American recording artist Christina Aguilera, who famously recorded a pop rendition of the ballad prior to the release of her platinum-selling self-titled debut album in 1999, on which the song is featured. Additionally, the song peaked at number nineteen on the BillboardAdult Contemporary chart. In 2011, Salonga was honored with a Disney Legends award in commemoration of her role as Mulan's singing voice. Additionally, Salonga performed a live rendition of "Reflection" at the ceremony.
The 2013 Disney princess redesigns portrayed Mulan with features that differ from her film appearance. The artwork featured Mulan with blue eyes, bigger lips, noticeably lighter skin, and golden clothing which does not resemble any outfit she has worn in the film. Her new appearance has caused an uproar due to the whitewash of her character. This was particularly troubling as Mulan is one of the few princesses of color. Shavon L. McKinstry of SPARK Movement writes that Mulan's redesign "seem to be directly counter to her personality and character in her film", and also notes how all the princesses of color have been "noticeably pushed to the back or left out completely" from the new Disney merchandise which featured the redesigns.
McKinstry argues that Disney "prefers to portray one demographic of princess, simultaneously alienating so much of their fanbase", pointing out that of the "ten Disney Princesses in the brand, six are white". The importance of Mulan and other non-white princesses can be seen in the 2009 study of the effects of children's cartoons on the body image of young girls by doctors Sharon Hayes and Stacey Tantleff-Dunn. The study revealed that in the group of girls ranging from 3 to 6 years old, 30.6% of the group would change their physical appearance if they could. Of these respondents, over half would change their hair and over a quarter would change something about their body, such as skin color. Of all girls surveyed, 8% said they would have to change their hair or skin color to become a princess, stating things like they would "change from brown skin to white skin", for example. The interviewed group was predominantly white.
A Change.org petition was created in protest to the redesign, stating that the new designs "show a blatant disregard for the image issues facing young girls today", calling for change as "Disney shapes society's view of girls and girls' view of themselves." Disney has since altered the coloration in Mulan's design by changing the blue eye highlight to brown, darkening the color of her skin, and changing her clothing to better resemble her attire in the film.
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