Growing up, I could never decide on my favourite “Disney Princess”. I put it in inverted commas because one of three isn’t a princess, and another isn’t even Disney. The toss up was between the three I deemed feistiest – Belle, Anastasia, and Mulan. I used to dream of being a princess, but I wanted to be a princess who fought for what she believed in, one who protected what was important to her, and one who won the respect of others not by being a princess, but by being worthy of respect.
I watched Mulan again recently and it brought a surge of memories. Mulan gets us girls. There’s something that just connects in almost every little girl’s brain when she watches Mulan, and I think it boils down to one statement: “Look, this one’s late, but I’ll bet when it blooms it will be the most beautiful of them all.”
Growing up is vicious! Hormones wreak havoc on friendships and schools teach you to be yourself while forcing a curriculum and enforcing a universal system that allows little leeway for the non-conformist. Then there’s the trial of trying to figure out not just what you want to be “when you grow up”, but also who you are – and that’s a much bigger task! Growing up isn’t easy, and at some point everyone feels a little behind. Everyone faces those insecurities that scream “you’re not good enough!” And that’s why Mulan hit a spot in every little girl’s heart.
But re-watching it, I also saw a value system that’s worth looking at more deeply. Mulan can’t be considered Christian by any stretch of the imagination – there’s ancestral worship and a demigod lizard – Sorry! Dragon! (He doesn’t do that tongue thing…) But despite it’s dubious foundation, there are definite Christian values etched into the makeup of that film.
Let’s take a look at, for example, the idea of honour in who you are over what you do. The movie opens with Mulan trying her absolute best to fit into a world that she simply doesn’t match with. She’s not their idea of beauty (despite being made by Disney to obviously look gorgeous), she’s not what they term strong or lucky, and anything about her mind is completely overlooked. But the movie ends with her father throwing down all of her achievements and stating that the greatest honour is having Mulan for a daughter. Why? Because of the person she has become. Who she is has become more important than what she has done. Even saving China is less important than showing she has within herself loyalty, courage, love, commitment, and strength.
Then there’s the whole non-conformist vibe. This is probably my favourite part of it of the whole story – the fact that fitting in isn’t the only thing that matters. I would sing along with heartfelt abandon while Mulan sang “..I will never pass for a perfect bride, or a perfect daughter… when will my reflection show who I am inside?” Mulan, quite simply, didn’t fit in. She tried so hard to be something she wasn’t and yet she failed so very miserably! Think “you may look like a bride, but you will never bring your family honour!” But when Mulan went against everything that was acceptable and became the hero she wanted to be – that was when she shone. Mulan proved to all of us that looking and acting the part isn’t as important as society will make us believe. Obedience is one thing, conformity is another. Mulan helped me get through every time I felt like I didn’t stand up to standards or I didn’t fit in.
And finally, we have one of my favourite quotes: “the flower born in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of them all.” Seriously, this one could be a Disney paraphrase of James 1:2-4 – “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
For a child whose tiff with a friend feels like her world is falling apart, the thought that this pain will bring her out more beautiful is a powerful message. I believe the Bible is complete and perfect, but I also think a lot of the wording is really hard for kids to get. What Mulan managed to do was take a truth and put into pictures and words that translated into a philosophy that thousands of little girls adopted and developed as their parents built into them a biblical foundation.
Now I’m not saying that Mulan has a gospel message, or that it has brought children to Christ…unfortunately… but what it has done is teach valuable lessons.
I’m twenty-one and I still want to be a Disney Princess. Mulan is one “princess” who shows me I am one.