Disney is no stranger to animating strong women. In this week’s Flashback Friday, we look at the life of Fa Mulan, a woman living in Ancient China in a time where men ruled. We’ll see how Mulan teaches the audience she’s a woman worth fighting for.
Released in 1998, Disney heroine Mulan became a woman worth fighting for. The film, based on the ancient Chinese myth of Hua Mulan, centres on a young woman who dresses as a man to take her father’s place in the army. The film features the voices of Ming-Na Wen and Eddie Murphy as the titular character and her dragon guardian Mushu, respectively as they join the fight against the Huns.
Late For A Meeting With The Matchmaker
Mulan’s journey begins when she realises she’s late for a meeting with the Matchmaker. She rallies her pet dog, Little Brother to feed the chickens while she gives her ailing father his tea. Her father reminds her she should be in town upholding the family honour.
In town, Mulan’s mother worries she’ll be late and that she should have prayed to the ancestors for luck. Mulan’s grandmother asks what the point of praying when the ancestors are dead.
The old woman produces a caged cricket and walks across the street with her eyes covered. Her stunt causes carnage with nearby civilians. Traumatised, the cricket passes out in shock.
Mulan arrives in a mess and her mother isn’t impressed. She is taken inside the bathhouse and gets thrown into a freezing bath. When she comments, her mother tells her if she’d arrived on time, it’d be warm. Fa Li discovers the notes on Mulan’s wrist and asks what they’re for. Grandma hands Li the cricket.
After getting her hair done, Mulan is taken to get into her dress before her makeup is done.
Matchmaker Session Ends In Disaster
Mulan’s time with the Matchmaker is anything but smooth. When the cricket escapes its cage, Mulan does everything to get it back, without causing a scene. However, her plan backfires with the Matchmaker’s backside getting burnt and Mulan trying to put out the fire with the pot of tea.
After a pep talk from her father, Mulan follows her parents to where a meeting has been called. Li tells her daughter to stay with her grandmother. Fa Zhou goes to get his conscription notice, but Mulan cuts in front of him, pleading with Chi Fu to spare her father. The advisor orders Zhou to tell his daughter to hold her tongue in the presence of a man.
That night at dinner, Mulan tries to talk her father out of going to war but is shut down when he puts her in her place. Upset, she runs out, to the protests of her mother.
Sitting in the Great Dragon statue until late into the night, Mulan takes the situation into her own hands. She waits until her family is asleep before she prays to the ancestors, steals her father’s armor, and cuts her hair using his sword.
Her horse Khan freaks out when he sees her, thinking she’s an intruder. She calms him, telling him it’s her. She looks back at the house, not knowing whether she’ll see it again.
Mulan Meets Mushu
In the forest, Mulan role-plays being a man with Khan who laughs at her. She realises she’s not fooling anyone and it will take a miracle to get her into the army undetected. An empowering voice speaks up behind and she freaks out. She thinks it’s a ghost before a little dragon and a cricket step out.
Mulan’s face falls and Khan tramples the dragon who introduces himself as Mushu. Mulan questions why her Ancestors sent a little lizard to help her. Mushu tells her off by saying he’s a dragon, not a lizard. Mulan tries to wrap her mind around Mushu being so small. Khan goes to bite him, but the dragon tells him to back off.
After Mushu makes crude comments, Mulan slaps Mushu. The dragon puts shame on her and the family. The young woman apologises, saying she’s never snuck away from home before. The dragon tells her to trust him and not to slap him.
Entering The Army Camp
Arriving at the Army Camp, Mushu instructs Mulan how to do the man walk. As they walk through the camp, Mulan comments and how disgusting the men are. Mushu tells her, she needs to act like them, so she needs to pay attention.
Freaked out, Mulan tells her new friend she can’t be a man. Mushu instills faith in her as they watch one soldier punch another in the stomach as a joke. Mulan almost causes a fight amongst the soldiers when Mushu tells her that men punch and slap each other on the behind each other as a way of saying hello. Another soldier tells the soldier Mulan punched to calm down before the first one calls Mulan ‘chicken boy’ which enrages Mushu who calls the man ‘limp noodle’.
When the General leaves, his son who happens to be the captain breaks up the fight Mulan starts. She tries to pull herself together but explains that her manly urges got in the way. The captain asks for a name and Mushu struggles but settles on Ping. Mulan has to repeat every name Mushu throws at her so the captain doesn’t get suspicious. She hands over conscription notice.
The captain and Chi Fu are surprised ‘Ping’ is the son of Fa Zhou. Mulan explains Zhou doesn’t talk about him much. Shang then punishes the whole camp, telling them they need to clean up their mess.
Breakfast And First Day Of Training
Mulan is woken by Mushu and he gives her breakfast. However, the meal is cut short when Khan sticks his head into the tent, telling alerting them that the troops have left the camp. Mushu tears up like a parent whose child is off to their first day of school.
Mulan walks into the camp but gets picked on by the soldiers. She tries to keep herself in check when Shang takes his shirt off. She joins the lineup of soldiers in watching as the shirtless captain singles out Yao for being a loudmouth. Yao fails in getting the arrow from the top of the post and so does a lot of other soldiers
A montage plays out of the soldiers trying and does not complete their training. From Yao dropping a beetle down the back of Mulan’s shirt to Mulan mistaking Yao’s foot for a fish. The training Shan pushes his soldiers through is brutal.
Finally, Mulan pushes herself to retrieve the arrow when Shang tells her – still disguised as Ping – to go home. From their tents, the soldiers peer out and see Mulan sitting at the top of the post.
Mulan’s reluctance to give up, drives the soldiers to push themselves to succeed. They improve and Mulan leads the charge, even taking down Shang in a practice fight. Mulan even gains friends in Yao, Chien Po, and Ling.
Bath Time Interrupted
At night, Mulan goes to take a bath in the river while Mushu and Khan keep watch. Mushu freaks out because if she is seen, her cover is blown. Mulan explains that just because she smells like a man, doesn’t mean she has to smell like one. Mushu tells her to get out of the water and that hygiene is overrated.
In the water, Mulan hears the men approaching and attempts to hide herself behind a rock. It doesn’t work the way she thinks. She does her best to get away from them. She gets her chance when Mushu bites Ling on the behind.
The guys retreat when Ling sees Mushu, thinking he’s a snake. Mulan and Mushu get out of the water with Mushu brushing his teeth to get the taste of human butt out of his mouth. The second Mulan says she never wants to see a naked man again, a swarm of men run into the water. Mushu says he’s not biting anymore butts.
Crush On Shang?
Returning to the camp after her bath, Mulan finds Chi-Fu tent and hears him arguing with Shang. Mushu tells Cri-Kee that he has worked too hard to get Mulan into the war and that the Chi Fu is messing with his plan.
Mushu approaches her the second Shang leaves and asks if Mulan likes Shang. She dismisses his comment and he orders her to go back to her tent.
Mountainside Hun Fight
Thanks to Mushu’s intervention, the army move through disaster zones where the Huns have attacked and killed people. Mulan looks around horrified at the destruction the huns have caused. She finds a little girl’s doll when Shang walks over to her, confused to why her his father wasn’t there to meet them.
Chi Fu calls for Shang, showing him more of the carnage. Chein Po walks up the hill, carrying General Li’s helmet. Mulan stands with the other soldiers as they watch anxiously for what Shang will do next.
Mulan moves to pay her respects to the general and receives a hand to the shoulder from Shang as a silent thank you. Shang informs the troops the Huns are moving quickly and they’re the only hope the Emperor has remaining.
As the group moves through the Tung Shao Pass, a rocket explodes from Mulan’s trailer. She turns around to see a ‘shellshocked’ Mushu pointing at Cri-Kee.
Shang rides over and starts of accusing Mulan of blowing their cover when he is shot in the shoulder. Mulan frees Khan and tries to ride away from the explosions but an explosion rings out, throwing them off balance. Khan takes off in fright. Mushu tells Mulan to save Khan before he passes out in the snow.
Shang rallies his soldiers to fight, saying if they die, they’ll die honourably. Mulan appears hesitant to draw her sword. At the last second, Mulan grabs the rocket and runs it closer to Shan Yu. She launches the rocket, but it misses the target which Mushu mentions as he throttles through the air.
The impact from the rocket causes an avalanche which wipes out most of the Hun Army. What reminds of the Imperial army take shelter behind a boulder while Mulan and Shang get caught in the snow’s carnage.
Mulan rides the snow out and finds Shang almost buried in the snow. Chein Po, Ling and Yao look for their missing captain and friend and try to use a bow and arrow with a rope attached to pull them to safety, only it backfires. Mulan, an unconscious Shang, Khan, Mushu, and Cri-Kee end up going over the cliff while Mulan tries to rescue them instead.
The guys end up saving them, but Mulan cripples in pain and reveals she’s been stabbed.
Not A Man
A medic tends to Mulan’s wound and reports to Shang. He goes to see her and learns ‘Ping’ is actually a woman. Chi Fu enters the tent and pulls Mulan out, revealing her secret to the men. Mulan is then left to her fate in the snow.
Mushu, Cri-Kee, and Mulan all wallow in their pity. Mushu reveals the real reason he’s there. Mulan says she shouldn’t have left home. Mushu tries to comfort her. He says her father would have died in the conflict if she hadn’t intervened. Mulan
Mulan ushers her remaining friends together, saying it’s time to go home. She and Mushu comfort each other for a moment before Shan Yu emerges from the snow. Other Huns free themselves from the snow, alerting Mulan and the animals.
Seeing the Huns, Mulan grabs her sword and tells Mushu they need to do something. Mushu freaks out saying the Huns popped out of the snow like daisies. Mulan asks if he’s with her or not. He agrees and follows her to the Imperial City.
Attack On The Imperial City
Mulan arrives in the Imperial City in the middle of a parade. She finds Shang and tries to tell him about the Huns. The captain, still hurt over everything that happened in the mountains and tells her to go home. Mulan makes a point that he trusted Ping and why is Mulan different? Unable to get Shang to listen, Mulan sets out to find someone who will.
She doesn’t find someone who will listen. Even Mushu stops listening to her. He makes a point that she’s now a girl again, no man will listen to her.
From the crowd, Mulan and Mushu see Shan Yu on the roof of the Imperial Palace which comes as a shock to everyone else at the parade. After the Emperor is kidnapped, Mulan knows the soldiers won’t get to him in time so she intervenes. She rallies the guys and has them dress as women, except Shang.
Seeing Shan Yu has the Emperor, she asks if the guys have questions. Yao asks if the dress he is wearing makes him look fat. She goes out with them to distract the Hun guards.
She takes out Shan Yu’s second-in-command, telling Shang to stop the Hun leader. Arriving on the scene with Chien-Yu, she tells her friend to get the Emperor to safety. Seeing Shan Yu knock out Shang, Mulan remains behind to take on the Hun herself. She cuts the rope, preventing him from getting to the ground.
When the angered Hun goes to kill Shang for stealing his victory, Mulan stops him, saying she stole his victory, not Shang. She pulls her hair back into a bun to show Shan Yu who she is. The Hun recognises her and advances and goes after her.
Getting away from Shan Yu for a moment, Mulan runs into Mushu who asks what her plan is. When she hesitates, she tells him she’s making the plan as she goes along. She sends Mushu and Cri-Kee to set off a bunch of fireworks while she faces off against the sole surviving Hun.
Mulan climbs onto the roof just as Shan Yu blurts through, ready to finish her. Nonetheless, she distracts him long enough for Mushu and Cri-Kee to get into place. Cri-Kee lights the fuse. The rocket
After receiving recognition from the Emperor, Mulan receives a medallion and Shan Yu’s sword which she takes home to her father. Zhou embraces his daughter with warmth.
Grandma comments to Li she should have brought home a man. A moment later, Shang arrives with Zhou’s helmet. Pointing the captain in the right direction, Grandma comments she should sign up for the next war.
Upon seeing Shang, Mulan asks if he’d like to stay for dinner. He says yes.
Mulan has always been one of my favorite Disney movies from childhood so choosing just one moment is hard. Though, if I had to pick, Mushu’s introduction in the Fa family temple is high up on my list.
6 Fast Facts About Mulan
- The film took five years to make.
- In the Disney Channel franchise Descendants, Mulan has a daughter attending Auradon Prep named Lonnie. It can only be assumed Shang is Lonnie’s father. Direct-to-Video sequels don’t count in Descendants lore.
- Chris Sanders and Dean DuBois both worked on this film. Chris and Dean left Disney and joined DreamWorks Animation. The pair directed the first How to Train your Dragon film together. However, the second and third films were directed and written solely by Dean while Chris was the executive producer on all three films.
- The 2020 live-action remake will be closer to the Hua Mulan myth than the animated film.
- A rumor states Mushu may be in the remake, but nothing is confirmed.
- While Shan Yu is technically the antagonist of the film, Chi Fu is counted as a villain because of his attitude towards Mulan.
The legend of the woman worth fighting for continues in next week’s Flashback Friday with Mulan II.