Gender Roles – Women
Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Men
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Gender Roles - Women: 4.5 Stars
Mulan is the same brave, independent young woman from the original film. She spends her time training young girls to be warriors and maintains her status as the legendary woman who saved China. She is firm in her beliefs and isn’t afraid of sharing her opinions with both the emperor and Li Shang, even when she knows that her opinions are unpopular and go against the grain of tradition.
Plot: 3.5 Stars (Spoilers)
Mulan’s heroism in this film is significantly watered-down from what we saw in the original. She’s limited to a basic mission to escort three princesses across China, with her biggest obstacle being simple miscommunications with her new fiancée. She’s eventually given a brief opportunity to battle a threatening gang of bandits - and when she believes that Shang has been killed, she makes a selfless decision to marry one of the Mongolian princes so that Mai, Ting Ting and Su can marry the men that they love.
While the writers likely felt that they were making a bold statement that women should have the freedom to marry whomever they choose, they approach the subject in a way that suggests romance is still the most important element of a woman’s life. The film ignores the fact that the Emperor’s daughters were promised to the Mongolian princes in an effort to avert a war and save lives. Old men like Mulan’s father, whom she rushed to defend in the original film, suddenly become unimportant in the face of romantic love. It doesn’t help that the “love” Mulan is rushing to defend blossomed overnight and is mostly superficial and silly.
To make matters worse, the film never fully resolves the conflict between Mongolia and China. Mulan never makes separate arrangements for peace in the region or consults with the Emperor after defying his orders and abandoning her mission. She simply makes a decision that the love lives of these three princesses are more important than the fate of China. If Mulan II wanted to take on the concept of arranged marriages, it should have stayed away from such a serious topic as war and focused merely on freedom of choice. But when balanced against the fate of the entire nation, the romantic whims of these three princesses appear insignificant and selfish.
Character Development: 4 Stars
Over the course of her journey, Mulan is faced with some uncomfortable conflicts with Shang, and with the difficult choice of being true to herself versus being true to a larger sense of duty and tradition. Although most of these conflicts are glossed over and simplified, the presentation alone adds some depth to a character who is otherwise very confident and self-assured. It tells us that even a woman as grounded as Mulan can have doubts about the choices she’s made and question whether she’s on the right path.
Love: 4 Stars
Mulan II attempts to inject a small dose of reality into the commonplace fairy tale ending of “Happily Ever After.” The film not only mentions the fact that Shang and Mulan have not known each other very long, but provides specific examples of how they are different. Mulan believes that her first commitment is to follow her heart, whereas Shang believes that duty to his country comes before his own personal needs. Mulan is comfortable acting on hope and emotion, whereas Shang relies heavily on planning and strategy. Most of these issues are resolved by Shang coming around to Mulan’s way of thinking, rather than a reasoned compromise or any indication that Mulan has recognized the value in Shang's point of view. But it is still rare to see a children’s film highlight some of the communication problems that young couples can experience, especially when the relationship is new and untested.
Unfortunately, the quick and easy romances between the Emperor’s daughters and the three Chinese soldiers tend to directly contradict this message. On one hand, the film is suggesting that romance can be complicated and hurtful, even when you’ve met the right person. Yet on the other hand, the film is asking us to believe that it doesn’t take more than a few simple smiles to forge a powerful connection worth risking the fate of your entire nation.
Gender Roles - Men: 2 Stars
Li Shang has become a general in the Chinese Army, and as a result, maintains his role as a warrior and a leader of men. He has a tough, proud exterior and never shows any signs of weakness or fear. Shang respects Mulan for her bravery and skill, but is less likely to consider her opinions on strategy or tradition. He does apologize when they argue, however, and admits that a great leader should consider the advice of those he leads when he makes a decision.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 3 Stars
Mulan and the three princesses are all traditionally beautiful Chinese women. Some are taller, or slimmer than the others, but they generally conform to the same social expectations for female heroines. Thankfully, there is just enough variation in the princesses’ personalities to tell them apart - and to convince very young children that love and attraction are based on something more than appearances. Unfortunately, neither Mulan nor the princesses ever look too ragged or distressed, despite their long journey and the trials they encounter on their trek across China.