Mulan - A Conservative Family Film In Liberal Drag

So we watched Disney’s Mulan last night, and seeing for the first time in years, I was really struck by just how politically incorrect a film it was. When it came out back in the 90s, it was considered a progressive film, since it was about a woman serving in combat. But seeing it now, nearly 20 years later, it feels more like a conservative film in feminist clothing.

Sure, the main thrust of the story is about a woman trying to achieve empowerment in a man’s world, but consider that almost every other character is a strong, masculine male soldier, and that the film celebrates those qualities rather than putting them down. Just listen to the lyrics of the song “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You”.

While they are tinged with a bit of irony because one of the soldiers it’s being sung to is a woman in men’s clothing, overall it’s a celebration of masculinity and the male gender, something that boys should aspire to be and women should appreciate. The men around Mulan are not weaklings and cowards, they’re strong, tough guys that give her an ideal to live up to. These are not the neutered beta males of recent Disney films and TV – they’re brave, rough-and-tumble guys who love to fight, tease each other and mack on ladies, and the film praises them for it, rather than humiliating or shaming them for their “toxic masculinity”. This film doesn’t see being a man as problematic, it sees being one as actually pretty awesome.

The movie is also very pro-military, seeing the war they’re fighting as courageous and necessary to protect their nation and repel the vicious, bloodthirsty Huns, who kill everything in their path. Mulan doesn’t join the army to prove something to anyone, she joins to save her father. But once she sees what a threat the Huns pose to her countrymen and her fellow soldiers, she joins the war effort enthusiastically. In its own G-rated way, it’s almost as pro-war a film as Zack Snyder’s 300.

The story is also more of what you would call “classically feminist” rather than modern feminist. Mulan earns the respect of her fellow soldiers by working her ass off and being brave. She’s not some Mary Sue character who is automatically better than anyone else around her because girl power (see modern Star Wars, Disney and superhero flicks). She does the work, and when the war is over she goes back to being a feminine woman, and at the end is even delighted at the possibility of a romance with her handsome former commanding officer.

It’s truly startling to see how far our culture has shifted in the last 20 years. If Mulan was made today, the character would be a Mary Sue who never has to work at anything, and constantly spouts feminist talking points while putting down all the misogynistic, weaker men around her, and the idea of a traditional romance with a man would be disempowering and beneath her. Not to mention that the entire war plot would be filled with constant commentary about how cruel, dehumanizing and futile war is. Just consider Disney’s most recent treatment of Mulan, on the show Once Upon A Time – she’s portrayed as a moody, butch warrior and a bisexual to boot. None of the femininity, warmth, complexity or likeability of the film character, just dour social justice pandering.

Man, I miss having a culture where even feminist films were fun to watch, and gave me something to cheer for.

2 comments to Mulan – A Conservative Family Film In Liberal Drag

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  • K

    Given the paucity of right themed films, it’s understandable when conservatives attempt to re-interpret obvious left wing message films into something supposedly right wing. Mulan was indeed a “progressive” film. The “conservative” aspects of it were the 1990 necessarily palatable main course which contained the “a woman’s place is in the trenches” poison. It was a stepping stone to Marvel’s girl Thor and the modern movie cliche 110 pound girl fighter who non-ironically kicks the butts of 10 football sized thugs.