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Disney's Mulan

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Brigid Schmidt
Topic replies: 85
Topic Posts: 9
Disney's Mulan

I chose Disney's 1998 animated action film, Mulan. Although I considered a few other films I recently watched, over quarantine I re-watched Mulan and my nostalgia for the music came back and I had a stronger idea for a lesson. While this movie definitely has Disney's romanticized vision of China, it is based on a popular Chinese folktale of a peasant girl who disguises herself as a man to take the place of her aging father in the emperor's army. I had hoped to see the new live-action film this spring to see if there were any changes. This film is directed by Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook and is a feature film-90 minutes long. Due to the time, I may only show certain scenes that are more important, although it is a shorter full-length film. It has a beautiful soundtrack with songs sung by Marni Nixon, Stevie Wonder, Donny Osmond, Lea Solanga, Jerry Goldsmith and even 98 Degrees and Christina Aguilera. When I do writing time in class, I sometimes play the score because it is beautiful and calming. I find it helps focus and calm my students. 

The story of Hua Mulan has been around since the 5th century. From what I teach about folktales and what we learned in the readinga for this course, this means there are many versions of this well-known story. Some differences are that there was no Mushu the dragon helping her and in the story, she was supposedly undercover for years and did not fall in love with her Captain, Li Shang, although some versions do say she had a love for another soldier. 

The movie takes place during the Han Dynasty in ancient China, during a patriarchal regime. Because of this, when the Great Wall can't keep out the Hun army, the emperor orders one man from every family to serve in his Imperial army. Mulan is worried about her father because he is older and sickly, so she decides to sneak out and take his place pretending to be his son because women weren't allowed to serve. Throughout the film we see an awkward and timid girl become a strong and confident warrior. I like this message for my young students, because in middle school years it can be hard to feel like you belong and to find your courage. Like most Disney films, she does fall in love with another soldier, her Captain. However, he believes she is a man. She acts selflessly to help stop the Huns and her Captain sees the courageous and caring person she is on the inside. In the end, she is honored by the emperor and finally brings honor to her family, which is what she wanted to do achieve all along. 

I do about a 2-week long lesson on folktales finding origins of popular ones and seeing how they are similar from culture to culture yet might have different names or characters. We look for themes, lessons, and meanings. I have my students write their own story (in groups) based on the theme of a chosen folktale. They perform it as a play to the class. I would love to dive further into the Mulan folktale and show my students how this film version is the Western interpretation of the folktale passed down for centuries. It would be great alignment with their History standards because they study ancient China. I would coordinate with the History teacher to do this folktale during that unit. 

Disney's Mulan:

Hua Mulan Origins:



Esther Dupree
Topic replies: 33
Topic Posts: 3

This is a great film to use because it has a lot of great conversation starters.  You can have the students compare differences between the film and the written story and the real history of China.  This would also work really well with a gender discussion.  Which attributes are considered feminine and which ones masculine?  How does this align with actual cultural values and gender representations in China?  Which representations are likely more US influenced?  I also would love for students to study the Chinese reactions to the first film when it came out.  What did people like about it/not like about it?  Did the Chinese government react to it officially?  If so, how?

What about this film helps us learn more about China?  What does this film get wrong and disrupt learning?

Ivonne Camacho
Topic replies: 5
Topic Posts: 1
Ivonne Camacho's picture
Disney's Mulan

Excellent! You picked my favorite Disney movie. I love this animated film because it shows the ancient part of the history of China that not many students know. It is  a very engaging movie and easy to follow and get the student's attention. I also love the fact that embraces women's point of view and her bravery is just amazing and admirable. Disney's Mulan is also a perfect wat to start a conversation about the gender roles and steretypes play in Asian societies, especially in China and Japan which can be very different, in my opinion. 


Kimberly Szeto
Topic replies: 32
Topic Posts: 2
RE: Mulan

I love how you’ve all highlighted different aspects of Mulan and its potential for classroom use! Here are some ideas to expand on:

1. Folktales and Cultural History: As you mentioned, Mulan is based on a centuries-old folktale. You can use it to explore the historical context of the Han Dynasty and compare it to other versions of the Mulan story from different times and cultures. Students can research various adaptations of the Mulan legend, create timelines, and present their findings through posters or presentations.

2. Gender Roles and Cultural Norms: Mulan provides a great starting point for discussions on gender roles in historical and modern contexts. You could have students explore how the film portrays masculinity and femininity compared to traditional Chinese values and contemporary Western perspectives. A discussion or debate activity could focus on how gender roles are represented and whether they are accurate or influenced by Western ideals.

3. Film Analysis and Media Literacy: Mulan’s portrayal of Chinese culture and history is a mix of fact and fiction. Students can analyze the film’s historical accuracy, comparing it with real historical events and practices from the Han Dynasty. They can also explore how Disney’s version of Mulan might differ from the original folktale and discuss the impact of these changes on viewers’ perceptions of Chinese culture.

4. Emotional and Motivational Lessons: The story of Mulan’s bravery and determination can be used to inspire students. You could have students write reflective essays or create creative projects about personal challenges and the courage they’ve shown in their own lives. This can help them connect the film’s themes to their own experiences.

5. Music and Arts Integration: The soundtrack of Mulan is iconic and could be used in lessons about film music and its role in storytelling. You could play the songs and have students analyze how the music supports the film’s emotional and narrative elements. An art project might involve students creating their own storyboards or posters based on scenes from the film.

6. Exploring Chinese Reactions: Investigate how Mulan was received in China versus in the US. Students can research and present on Chinese reviews of the film, any governmental responses, and how the film’s portrayal of Chinese culture was perceived by audiences in both countries.