Disclaimer: I will not be going into the many variations of the Mulan legend. I will be strictly referring to the first Mulan movie, the franchise, and the stereotypes from the fifties (so don’t throw salt or shade!).
If you ever walked into a Disney store or looked on their website, you might have noticed that most of the official Disney Princess outfits are really different from the film versions. Take Ariel for example. Back when the Disney franchise had eight princesses (Snow White, Jasmine, Mulan, Aurora, Cinderella, Pocahontas, Belle, and Ariel), she had her basic pink gown from her first dinner with Eric. As the franchise grew to eleven princesses, her dress gradually changed to its current aqua, royal blue-topped, boujee gown (Total glow up. I know).
Why are some of the changes so drastic? Is it to keep fans on their toes? Why do some Disney outfits incorrectly represent their characters and the characters’ actions? To be specific, why is Disney perceiving Mulan as a princess instead of a warrior?
Let’s be honest here and admit something: Mulan is not a princess and she never will be because she never married into a royal family. If you remember in the Disney movie, Mulan (and the horse) galloped home after she defeated Shan Yu and declined the Emperor’s job offer. She then had a heartfelt reunion with her family and invited Shang to have dinner with them. How did Disney get from a farm girl asking her army general to dinner to suddenly being a princess?
In fashion culture the outfits are everything. EVERYTHING. Fashion represents your identity and what you bring to the world. Mulan’s various movie outfits represents strength, empowerment, determination, diligence, and a wealthy middle class existence. As a whole, her outfits in the movie embodies family and the honorable deed she did for them. For crying out loud, Mulan broke the law to fight for her father even though she could have gotten killed by an enemy or the government. Compared to the majority of the Disney Princesses, she had a lot of guts to break the law and save her country.
We’re going to look at Mulan’s current franchise dress versus her film movie dress. When you look at these two pictures what do you see? The one with Mushu shows that Mulan embodies a princess, while the other embodies a warrior. When Disney created the Disney Princess Franchise, a vast majority of them had goals of finding love, while the minority had the goal to help others or to find self knowledge.
Since the majority wanted to find love, it created this stereotype that women are weak and have to find a significant other to be truly happy. While Disney glorifies this stereotype to sell products, they start to forget that their central female figures are strong, independent individuals who could empower young girls. If Disney wants to break down decades old stereotypes, then they should design princess outfits that encourage women to be self-sufficient.
Back in the fifties, getting married in the late teens and early twenties was normalized– the media encouraged marriage more than education for women. In addition, the media focused on a woman’s role at home, where society considered a working woman selfish if her family didn’t need the money. Now it’s the 21st and nothing is stopping women from pursuing their dreams and fighting for equality. Despite this, everyone watched at least one Disney Princess movie in his or her life, especially 20th century films, and we grew up with these old-fashioned stereotypes and aspired to be a Disney Princess. Eventually, we grew out of these aspirations and created our own dreams, but everyone still carry these old stereotypes and it holds us back from growing to our full potential.
Since Mulan is an iconic inspiration for several people and they want to see her as a warrior, why not create a franchise for empowering women? I mean, Disney already has about three empowering movies. Right? There’s “Moana”, “Mulan” (obviously), and “Brave” (I get that it’s Pixar, but it should be in there. Besides, Disney owns Pixar…and a bunch of other movie companies). Each movie would have characters that are accurately represented and become known for their individual deed/goal that they accomplished instead of something they’re not. Even though these movies (and future Disney adventure/action movies), have a fair amount of action and adult themes, like Marvel, Disney is more than capable to make it kid-friendly. With this new franchise, people would learn that women are diligent, independent people, and see the older Disney movies as a form of entertainment or a history lesson on old-fashioned values.