I love mythology and fairy tales. So many people find it strange when I say that I’m not quite absolutely crazy about Disney movies. Don’t start throwing rocks at me yet, Disney lovers.
I understand the movies are just a
rather free interpretation of the adventures of characters from myth,
legend and sometimes history, and for this reason I can’t expect the plots to
match the tales’ original motifs. It’s just that when the plots and the characters’ personalities are changed in such a way that
the stories seem to lose their spirit, I get a little sad and a lot
disappointed… maybe livid.
Many years ago, my first encounter with Disney Mulan left me shaking with
the rage of the aforementioned sadness and disappointment.
I was a small weapons specialist serving with “the few, the proud, the (you better work harder
than any man if you want to get any respect among us) Marines.” I watched the movie after having one not so
wonderful day. My moon arrived on the day of my first physical training test
(PFT) with my new unit. The cramps had made my skin look so pale, that my
Sergeant asked if I was sick.
Mind-fogged by the pain, I kind of forgot that I was talking to a particular brand of male Marine and said, “No, I’m fine, Sergeant. The first day of my period always sucks.”
With a look that suggested I had just told him that I would die if I didn’t perform open heart surgery on myself, my Sergeant said, “Skip this one, Devil Dog. Go to sick bay and get something for it. Hope you feel better soon.”
The man was being kind. I wanted to eye gouge him and push my fists into his eye sockets. “I’m not sick, Sergeant. I’ll run my PFT,” I said, and walked away to stretch with my best friend.
As always, I maxed my flexed arm hang, maxed my crunches and I think I ran my three miles in about 23 minutes. And only my best friend noticed that I had bled through my shorts a bit.
So the PFT went all right, but I ruined my day wondering if the practice test had been a sign of what the rest of my Marine Corps career was going to be like. It wasn’t even close. But I didn’t know that at the time. I needed a little pick me up. When the world’s realities tried to bring me down, I pushed myself up by reading about characters in myth, legends and history who worked hard to twist reality until it fit their will—I spent the afternoon with tales of Anacaona, Joan of Arc, and The Ballad of Mulan. I watched Mulan, the Disney movie, that night before bed. And in 88 minutes, I was robbed of an entire afternoon of self-prescribed reading therapy.
Mulan (along with Brave and Frozen) is supposed to evoke all sorts of girl empowerment. I think it would’ve worked that way for me, if I had not read so much about the legend of Hua Mulan—an honorable daughter, accomplished fighter (since before joining the army), a woman warrior who fiercely defended her country during 12 years of war.
Wondering what all this has to do with Mulan unbinds her floating boats? Of course you are, for I know you are as curious as I am nosy. I shared that mountain of a background to let you know that The Disney Origins Story Podcast, by Paul J. Hale, might have saved Disney Mulan for me.
Paul’s brilliant exploration of the legend of Mulan, which includes the voices of Rommy Driks and Daniel Hale, fills holes in the Disney storyline, makes connections between the new and the old and offers rational justifications for most of the not-quite-right bits found in the blockbuster’s plot.
One of my biggest problems with Disney’s rendition of Mulan’s tale had to do with her leaving home in the middle of the night without her father’s blessing, something that doesn’t happen in the poem. My other issue was with Disney Mulan’s incompetence when she joins the army. The idea of such an idiot—sorry, there is that sadness and disappointment creeping back—anyhoo, the idea of such a klutz surviving a war for more than three days is outrageous. And I doubt that a lying dragon and a lucky cricket would have made much difference. Swords just aren’t wielded by luck.
As you might have noticed, I really enjoyed The Disney Origins Story Podcast; listening to it was such yummy learning fun, that I watched Disney Mulan after I was done, and didn’t hate it at all. I might’ve even laughed (and snorted) at some of Mushu’s questionably-funny jokes.
The Disney Origins Story
Hua Mulan, image by Moonchild000