For: pervasive worship of false gods, pervasive cross dressing, filial rebellion, moral confusion, comical suicide, and feminism
Mulan is the sad, warped Disney retelling of an ancient Chinese legend, celebrating multiple abominations without actually celebrating womanhood. Ensnared in a religion of death and a culture that undervalues her as a human being, Mulan, having no Savior in whom to find worth, gets swept up in positively-portrayed deceit, disobedience and transvestism, throwing away her femininity and measuring her worth in terms of success and fame.
Pervasive Worship of False Gods
Ancestor worship is depicted as natural, normal and true. The spirits of Mulan’s dead ancestors rise in response to her and her father’s prayers to them, and are portrayed as having the power to interact with the physical world, to transform metal into living flesh, and to guide and influence Mulan’s life through their messengers.
Mulan and her father are each shown praying to false gods, bowing at their household shrine and lighting incense to the dead. Prayer to the ancestors is referenced multiple times, positively. Mulan’s commander bows before his deceased father’s relics.
Pervasive Cross Dressing
Mulan’s transvestic behavior is not sexually motivated, but her intent is to dress and behave as much like a man as possible. Her goal in adopting a male persona self-confessedly involved, to one degree or another, improving her self image. This is portrayed positively, not negatively. The biblical absolute prohibition of cross dressing not only includes women dressing as men, but in the original Hebrew specifically implies women taking up the battle equipment of men1.
Mulan is described as “Miss Man”, and reference is made to cross dressing and “the drag show”. Male soldiers dress as female concubines. A male officer is seen relaxing in his robe, which is pink and frilly.
Mulan is positively portrayed for stealing from, talking back to, and turning away from her father multiple times. She also disregards her mother. Mulan’s running away to join the army is in deliberate opposition to her father’s wishes. Additionally, Mulan ignores her father’s authority and capability by cutting him off and jumping in between him and the conscription officer, representing her father as incapable of handling the situation on his own.
The moral framework referenced throughout Mulan is the cultural concept of honor and dishonor, neither one biblically defined. Rather than being driven to do the right thing, Mulan pursues a vague idea of “honor”, regardless of whether that involves morality or immorality.
Mulan claims that her abominations were “the only way” - the “right” way - and she attempts to justify them by making them necessary to improve her self esteem. In the real world, however, there is always a way to do the right thing without committing abomination2, and self esteem never justifies sin.
Mulan disobeys orders and prevents another soldier from obeying orders, based on a hunch, and based on the understanding that Disney characters are unstoppable once they have a strategic plan. Mulan’s deliberate insubordination risked the lives of hundreds of men, and potentially the fate of her country, but because her crazy idea happened to work, she is portrayed as doing the right thing.
Mulan’s enlisting as a soldier is a capital crime in ancient China, and once she is found out, her commanding officer knows he is required to execute her. He doesn’t, however, because she once did him a favor, and despite the fact that he is an officer, he feels at liberty to violate military law based on interpersonal relationships. Also, Mulan’s wrong acts are weighed, not against her character, but against her good strategy and nerve.
As an aside, Mulan’s immaturity - not merely her lack of social graces, but her inability to behave like an adult - is compared favorably to a late blossoming flower, implying that Mulan merely has to wait for the moment when she will suddenly know how to conduct herself. In real life, however, persistent immaturity is the result of character flaws, not personality type.
Two innocent men, frightened by the comic-relief character, leap from a tower to their deaths. This is portrayed as funny.
Mulan is set in a caricatured society, where men are portrayed as inherently disgusting and demeaning, and women who are comfortable in their femininity and behave themselves in a ladylike way are conformists, missing out on something. While traditional Chinese patriarchy, in which women are considered less valuable than men, is unbiblical and morally twisted, even it is exaggerated to provide a foil for Mulan’s exploits.
The character Mulan is given credit in and by the movie only insofar as she shows herself to be superior to all of the men, in strength, strategy and bravery. Also, on the other hand, she is singled out as an amazingly unique hero, despite her performing only slightly above her male companions. In other words, the movie holds the typical feminist double standard. It treats her like just one of the guys during the competition (she wouldn’t have been considered a worthwhile heroine if she only surpassed half of the men instead of all of them), but when it comes time to hand out the prizes it gives her special treatment on account of her gender.
When the villain thinks that Mulan’s commander is responsible for his defeat, Mulan interrupts and assures him that she is the one who took away his victory. If the roles were reversed, and the male superior officer had been so quick to take all the credit, he would be considered a conceited jerk.
A lack of trust in Mulan is strongly implied to be the result of gender prejudice, despite Mulan’s known history as a liar.
1 Deuteronomy 22:5
2 1 Corinthians 10:13