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Whatever Happened To Mulan?

Whatever Happened To Mulan?

 

Written by PunditMom

Princess Merida in Disney/Pixar’s new movie Brave is a strong girl. She has brains. She’s headstrong. She knows her own mind.

She is physically strong. She’s an accomplished equestrian. She doesn’t want an arranged marriage.

She’s smarter than the guys (except for when it comes to dealing with a magical witch).

The media buzz about an animated princess movie where the girl isn’t helpless or searching for a husband has been deafening, telling us that Brave’s protagonist Merida is a first.

Except that she’s not. My 12-year-old daughter and I saw Brave the day it was released (on our own dime), and I was expecting big things. While we both enjoyed it, and my sixth-grader loved comparing it to Katniss in the Hunger Games, I couldn’t help being a little disappointed because by comparison, there’s another Disney character I think is slightly better at giving our daughters a “feminist princess” (Veronica, I had to borrow that phrase from you because it’s a good one!) who has many of the same attributes as Merida — Mulan.

While it’s true that Mulan isn’t technically a princess, though she has been marketed that way, I think it’s fair to compare them. Mulan has always been one of my favorites because: (1) there’s no stepmother/dead mother story line, (2) she’s more interested in pursuing her own dreams than finding a husband, (3) she’s smarter than all the soldiers who fight the Huns, (4) and she singlehandedly saves China. Those are good attributes in a girl!

So why are we ignoring Mulan? Why is Disney advertising it as the “first” with a female protagonist? I wish I had a good answer for that. Maybe they think our memories are short? And other princesses have fine attributes we can hope our daughters will emulate, like Belle’s love of books. While there are things in traditional princess movies that I bristle at (like Ariel being willing to abandon her family and give up her voice — literally and figuratively — for a man she falls in love with at first sight) –  there are others who also have redeeming qualities, like:

1. Danielle from Ever After. It’s a remake of the Cinderella story with Drew Barrymore, but in the end, even though she’s fallen in love with the handsome prince, Danielle saves herself and is essentially an equal in her ultimate marriage.

2. Enchanted. While she certainly doesn’t start out that way, Amy Adams’ character Giselle transforms into a woman who thinks for herself and realizes there’s more to a happy relationship than looking good in a big, white wedding dress.

3. Pocahontas. She’s not a traditional princess, but Pocahontas is definitely a woman who taught the menfolk a thing or two. Sure, she ended up marrying Captain John Smith, but she wasn’t out to find a man; she was an adventurer.

4. CinderElmo.  The gender roles are reversed for this Muppet  Cinderella story, but Kerry Russell plays a Princess who also balks at the idea of having to choose a man to marry at random at the age of 18. She finally gets decide her own fate after her Muppet father, the King, has his epiphany, “I can change the LAA-aaww!”

5. Tangled. This Rapunzel doesn’t need saving by the guy with “the smolder.” And I’d bet that Willow Smith is just a little jealous of how this Rapunzel “whips her hair.”

Interestingly, the aspect of Brave that resonated most with my daughter wasn’t the strong sense of self that Princess Merida brings to the screen — it was the story of Merida’s family and the bond she had with her mother. And that gives me hope as we enter the oh-so tumultuous teen years in our own castle.

Do you have a favorite “feminist princess?”

This post was originally published by PunditMom.

 

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Photo: Loren Javier/flickr

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69 comments

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11:41PM PDT on Oct 7, 2013

And I do adore Coraline :) AND I am a feminist who wants to get married and live happily ever after..

11:39PM PDT on Oct 7, 2013

Mulan!!!!!!

2:11PM PDT on Sep 29, 2012

Let me first point out that the Disney version Pocahontas did NOT marry John Smith. Neither did the real one. However, Mulan is indeed my favorite Disney "Princess". Snow White, Cinderella, Ariel and Sleeping Beauty are simply air headed and lovestruck. None of them even get to KNOW these guys! Jasmine gets to know Aladdin, but is a total slut. I do love Belle though :) she is a lot like me

12:31AM PDT on Sep 9, 2012

Agree with Myriam G.: Pippi Longstocking was the first independant girl and the book was written in the 40's.

11:53AM PDT on Jul 5, 2012

My favorite is Tiana from princess and the frog. She thinks for herself(unlike her best friend), and her lifes dream is to open her own restaurant not find prince charming. Even though she does inevitably fall in love.

5:54PM PDT on Jul 4, 2012

Pippi Longstockings

11:04PM PDT on Jul 3, 2012

Cont...

placing the shoe on the other foot.

11:03PM PDT on Jul 3, 2012

It's interesting that the emancipation of women is still such a strong theme decades after the swinging sixties and the Women's Liberation Movement gained full sway. Princess or not, the theme of these heroines is that women are equal to men and can achieve the same autonomy and power.

The theme is not new. There have been many women in history who have been heroic and autonomous however they are the exceptions, as are men who have achieved similar feats. The plots also imply that men are perfectly fine with being stuck with a life partner they did not choose. Really? (Talking about our "modern" societies now...)

What's wrong with happily ever after? For all of the autonomy the heroine may achieve, how many of these Amazonian women are single by the end of the story?

Not every woman wants to save the world. Even those who do are generally answering a calling, rather than planning it at the outset, ironically, using men to achieve their goals. Not every woman wants a career. Some women just want to work their week and enjoy their weekend. Some women just want to love their man or woman and raise their children.

In the end, we are hard wired to seek a mate. It's part of the biological process that ensures survival of the species. It will always trump anything society manufactures to fit the standards of the time.

We need to validate ALL women's choices, as long as they came to them of their own free will, and not invalidate men at the same time or we are merely

9:25PM PDT on Jul 3, 2012

I know that she is not a feminist princess or even a Disney character as such; but I love Coraline *the book more than the movie*. Coraline had to face some of the most frightening things that a young girl would ever face by herself. She faced down the Beldame, a creature far more terrifying than anything Disney could cook up and she had to do it alone.
The movie gave her Whybe, a boy sidekick so as Neil Gaiman explained, she would not be wandering around talking to herself.
Still I was saddened to see that the story had been altered to include a boy who ultimately helps save her, when in the book, she did everything by herself. She saved her parents and the three ghost children that had been killed and devoured by the Beldame. At least in the movie, she did not fall for Whybe, although they became friends. I just liked the way the character found the inner strength to face the Beldame without all the tired old cliches that seem to go with these kind of movies. Coraline was a character I could cheer for.

Another Neil Gaiman character is Helena from Mirrormask, a girl who having to face her mother's serious illness finds herself in another place called The City Of Light. Helena's doppelganger, a princess from the Land Of Shadows has stolen the Mirrormask that she used to swap places with Helena. Even though she does have a male friend called Valentine to help her, Helena is a can do girl who is determined to save the Queen and The City Of Light. Another strong, intellige

9:25PM PDT on Jul 3, 2012

I know that she is not a feminist princess or even a Disney character as such; but I love Coraline *the book more than the movie*. Coraline had to face some of the most frightening things that a young girl would ever face by herself. She faced down the Beldame, a creature far more terrifying than anything Disney could cook up and she had to do it alone.
The movie gave her Whybe, a boy sidekick so as Neil Gaiman explained, she would not be wandering around talking to herself.
Still I was saddened to see that the story had been altered to include a boy who ultimately helps save her, when in the book, she did everything by herself. She saved her parents and the three ghost children that had been killed and devoured by the Beldame. At least in the movie, she did not fall for Whybe, although they became friends. I just liked the way the character found the inner strength to face the Beldame without all the tired old cliches that seem to go with these kind of movies. Coraline was a character I could cheer for.

Another Neil Gaiman character is Helena from Mirrormask, a girl who having to face her mother's serious illness finds herself in another place called The City Of Light. Helena's doppelganger, a princess from the Land Of Shadows has stolen the Mirrormask that she used to swap places with Helena. Even though she does have a male friend called Valentine to help her, Helena is a can do girl who is determined to save the Queen and The City Of Light. Another strong, intellige

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