I recently related to you that Prince Eric is Disney’s dumbest Prince and that generally speaking the Disney Princes are an interesting group of guys. Today, we’re traveling to China for a Disney movie that everyone knows is amazing but no one knows what the fuck to do with it because:
- The main character is a cross dressing woman
- Mulan’s “love interest” (and I use that term loosely) is a man who’s falling for her when he thinks she’s a dude
- There’s no prince, no princess
- No marriage, no engagement
- No female desire to get married
- And oh yeah, it’s not about white people
Let’s call it like it is: Mulan basically breaks a shit ton of gender norms and for that alone, I think we can safely say it can be seen as one of the more subversive Disney animated films. All the things Frozen got kudos for had Mulan snorting, rolling her eyes, and saying, “ancestors, hear my plea, make everyone realize I did this shit like 15 years ago.” “When will my reflection show who I am inside” was basically a beta version of “conceal, don’t feel.”
If we’re handing out awards for “most masculine Disney lead,” I think we can safely say that Shang was made some kind of uber man. Mulan showcases a lot of different kinds of masculinity, but let’s be honest and say Shang’s body and physical prowess are what he brings to the table. Like Prince Eric, Shang’s skill is not in his intelligence so much as it’s in his dexterity with his hands. Let’s be honest and say that in the process of Shang “making a man” out of his army, he doesn’t really place a lot of emphasis on overall intelligence. Mysterious as the dark side of the moon? Swift as a raging river? All the force of a great typhoon? All the intellect of a grain of rice. He’s like a really great personal trainer who just lives in the gym and wants to pump you up. You don’t ever see Shang really getting into strategy or anything. It’s all good because his rippling pectoral muscles will get him through just about anything. Dare I say it, Shang has some of the most developed upper body muscles I’ve ever seen in a Disney character and it seems like over time they get progressively broader of shoulder and more rippling of pectoral as time goes by.
So let’s delve a little deeper into Shang’s intelligence, shall we? In this film, Shang and the boys arrive at the village that’s been burned down and Shang’s father’s entire army unit or whatever it’s called is completely destroyed. The first question one might ask is, “hey, how did no one know that an entire village was completely burned to the ground? Shouldn’t Shang have sent people ahead to like, scout and stuff? Isn’t that an army thing in case the Huns are lurking just around the next mountain?”
Then, after realizing they’re all dead, Shang’s like, “we’re the only hope for the emperor!” That leaves you also wondering, “so wait, there’s no more Chinese army? this was it? There have been wars in China that killed millions of people, and that’s all you’ve got for an army?” Then Ping strategically places the very last cannon and you think, “shouldn’t Shang have thought about this? Shouldn’t he be thinking strategically like that instead of just saying, “and we’re going to just go for it and die with honor!” Or “Maybe we shouldn’t stand on the edge of this cliff with nowhere to go but down?”
So once again, like Ariel, Mulan is basically the one doing all the thinking and acting as opposed to just dumbly reacting to things.
And then we get to the big reveal, and Shang’s all like, “OH MY GOD, YOU HAVE LADY PARTS! I CAN’T TRUST YOU EVEN THOUGH YOU’RE SMARTER THAN I AM.” And as Mulan is sitting on that mountainside all alone, it occurs to you that, shouldn’t someone have checked to make sure the Huns were dead? They’re having a big party in the Imperial City and when the evil villain Shan Yu finally rears his head you’re thinking, “You know, this is why people brought heads on sticks. To avoid this kind of crap.”
Shang: “Why should I believe you? YOU ONLY SAVED MY LIFE AND KILLED THE ENTIRE HUN ARMY WITH ONE CANNON.”
The whole saving of the emperor further proves that Shang is dead weight and quite frankly to preserve his masculinity (you know, because he’s the man in this movie) he doesn’t even participate in the cross dressing to get into the castle, he’s all, “I’ll join you but I’m not dressing as no lady.” Nice job, d-bag, the bird, horse, and cricket are all smarter than you.
The ending in general has you thinking, “wait, what? there’s one guy on a roof, and like a bajillion people in the courtyard, why are they all screaming? You can’t all just agree to take down one dude with a sword? An armoire took people down in Beauty and the Beast…”
So, what do people think of Shang and Mulan? Did it make a man out of you? Is Mulan basically an entire treatise on masculinity and gender? WHO DID BREAKING GENDER NORMS BETTER: FROZEN OR MULAN?