Mulan: Disney vs. Reality



Staff writers Chloe and Lilly Rose compare the classic Disney film to historical research.

Mulan is an animated Disney movie about a young girl who takes her father’s place in the army during the Qin dynasty in ancient China when the Huns invade. Many people know this, but do they know the truths and lies hiding under Disney’s interpretation? If you haven’t watched Mulan, we recommend doing so before you read this article because there are many spoilers ahead.

So, first things first. Mulan is based on a ballad called the Ballad of Mulan. When Disney was incorporating it into an animated film, they left out or changed some parts.nIn the movie, Mulan is found out and General Li Shang is the one who decides to save her from a shameful death. But in the Ballad, Mulan is actually the one who exposes herself for who she is: a woman disguised as a male soldier. 

Both in the movie and the ballad, Mulan pretends to be a man. This is because, if the army found out she was a woman trying to fight, they would kill her. However, there is historical evidence that there were female warriors around the time the ballad was written. If the movie had been historically correct, some of the famous scenes and songs wouldn’t have made sense, like “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.” So it’s probably best that this scene was inaccurate. 

Mulan actually presents an interesting fact about the history between crickets and China’s culture! In another scene from the movie, Grandmother dangerously crossed the street with her eyes closed and cricket in hand. In ancient China (and even today), crickets like Cri-Kee were considered extremely lucky and symbols of good fortune in their culture. Also, most crickets were also kept in golden cages as Cri-Kee was in the film, as a symbol of how important they were.

Also, in one of the beginning scenes of the movie, the Huns invade China by using grappling hooks to climb over the Great Wall. One of the soldiers on the Great Wall starts a distress signal with fire at a watch tower. It starts a chain reaction of other soldiers at other watchtowers along the Wall lighting their fires, warning the others of the threat. That way of communication was actually used during other invasions or similar instances. This was a pretty ingenious way of alerting each other in the dark, and at many times, it managed to save many lives in ancient China’s history.

Another thing that was similar in both the movie, ballad, and history was the amount of filial piety and family honor. There are a few scenes in the animated Disney film where characters can be seen praying to their ancestors. An example is when Fa Hua Zhou, Mulan’s father, prays to their family ancestors, hoping that the Matchmaker (an actual job that some people had in ancient China) would find her good enough to be someone’s wife, and uphold her family’s honor. There is even a whole song (“Honor to Us All”) about how desperate she is to make her family proud and to be the perfect wife. 

In another part of the movie, Mulan prays to her ancestors before she goes off and joins the army as a boy and in her father’s place. She really needs some luck, and so she goes to her ancestors. That is a really good example of her devotion to them, and how much everyone in those times believed (and some still believe) that they can control some elements of their future, whether good or bad.  

Connected to that, women didn’t really have much freedom, both in history and in the movie. They spent most of their life learning how to be the perfect housewives, and as soon as they came of age, they presented themselves to the Matchmaker. Then they were shipped off to a husband, and lived happily ever after. Or not. Anyway, Mulan showed her independence by standing up for herself, and doing what she truly wanted to do.

Anyways, everyone’s favorite character, Mushu, is here! Mushu is the tiny dragon that the ancestors ‘sent’ to help Mulan on her journey. Even though in the movie he breathes fire, people  believed that most dragons did not do so, and usually lived in water. It’s sort of impossible to breathe fire. So even though he is arguably one of the best sidekicks ever, he is not really an authentic Chinese dragon. We still love him, though!

Though Mulan is a great movie, there are a few historical inaccuracies. Even so, Mulan has a very powerful message and encourages many young girls around the world to stand up for what they believe is right. We recommend this movie to all. And if after you read this and watch the movie, you can look for some of the things we pointed out.

Chloe Dias ’27 & Lilly-Rose Madani ’27, Staff Writers &