Most of us have a “Disney gap”… the movies that came out in between us seeing Disney movies ourselves and having kids old enough to watch them. My Disney gap starts around Beauty and the Beast and ended around Frozen.

Mulan is square in the middle of it. And I had not watched it until last week.

The best thing I can say about Mulan is that Moana was a much improved do-over of its themes and story line.

Consider a few points:

  • Moana didn’t have to disguise herself as a boy to overcome the gender restrictions and “place” she was born with.
  • Moana and Mulan both have their token Hollywood A-list character thrown in for comic relief. But at least the Rock was representing his own culture in playing Maui, a character he based on his grandfather. Where TF did Eddie Murphy come from as a must-have part of Mulan?
  • Maui explicitly gave Moana the credit for saving the world at the end of the movie. Mushu ends the movie trying to steal credit and get his own reward for Mulan’s win. (Sigh.)
  • Moana had no love interest in her movie. She was just saving the world.
  • Much like the Incredibles 2, Mulan spends way too much time upholding gender stereotypes and too little time dismantling them at the end. Let’s just say songs like “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” and “A Girl Worth Fighting For” aren’t gonna be on our family playlists anytime soon…
  • This is obviously second hand, but from what I can glean, Moana generally did a better job of reflecting the culture than Mulan did.

Per my first point, Mulan defenders may argue at the time, pretending to be a man was Mulan’s only choice. That may be true, but I still cringe at the trope that girls can only be strong by putting on the vestiges of “manhood.” And note: This is still a debate we are having today. Witness Harvard Business School’s report last week that women benefit by “downplay[ing] gender.”

I feel a lot of things about that study but let me just say two:

  1. No shit. That’s pretty much the premise of Lean In and white woman Gen X “having it all-ism” write large. Passing and being the right kind of woman is easier for women who can be the right kind of woman. When you don’t seek to overthrow a system but try to use it to your advantage you have less blowback. We didn’t need a study to tell us this.
  2. That doesn’t make it the better long term strategy for anyone. It’s become clear in the last year how little Gen X women (me included…I fully cop to living much of my adult life this way in my book…) moved the ball ahead when it comes to equality. The “I’ll just look out for myself” school failed ourselves, our daughters, and certainly failed women of color. It also breeds Queen Bee-ism.

Disney has a live-action Mulan in the works. I’d rather see another stab at an animated one directed by Domee Shi. I felt more during a few minutes of Bao than two hours of Incredibles 2. Give her allllllllll the Pixar money….

Today’s questions:

Sarah Lacy

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