Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Feature Article: Mulan-Snow White in Disguise

Hello everybody!

Boy, I have a great article to share with you all. My very good friend wrote an interesting article for her school writing assignment and I thought I would share with you all.

I found this the most interesting article in relation to our beloved Disney Princesses!

Feature Article: Mulan--Snow White in Disguise?

Enjoy!

Special Thanks to: Debbie Campbell ºoº

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"Mulan—Snow White in Disguise?"

Written by: © Debbie Campbell

White makeup covering her face, Mulan stares at her reflection and wonders when it will match who she really is inside. She then wipes off the makeup and by so doing rejects what it symbolizes: the ultimate Chinese eligible bride of that time who was honored for being delicate, beautiful, and perfect at serving tea. Instead of pursuing marriage, Mulan leaves home, dressed as a male in her father’s old armor, to fight in her father’s place in the war against the Huns. Mulan’s actions and desires contrast greatly with Kathi Maio’s accusations.

Maio feels that the Disney heroines, while having new skin colors, still only have one ambition – to be a happy homemaker. Maio argues that Mulan, though brave, is only trying to fulfill patriarchal duty instead of pursuing her own interests. According to Maio, Mulan’s and Snow White’s main goals are the same: finding an attractive male to marry.

Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) do all appear as passive females who can sing, do domestic chores, and look pretty but when in danger must wait for their handsome princes to rescue them. These heroines do seem to have as their ultimate goal to be happily married homemakers. Although Maio describes Snow White’s, Cinderella’s, and Aurora’s portrayals accurately, Maio’s one-size-fits-all attitude doesn’t work for Mulan or for many of the other Disney heroines.

Disney began to break the pattern of the beautiful but helpless heroines with the introduction of Ariel in The Little Mermaid. Ariel’s passion for finding and studying human objects and culture leads her to take great risks such as swimming in shark territory and disobeying her father by visiting the ocean’s surface. While at the surface, Ariel rescues Prince Eric from drowning and thus discovers a live human to study. Her interest in him is not only romantic; he is also a vehicle for her to learn more about humans. At the end of the story, Ariel has managed to realize her passion—to be able to live in the human world— while having a significant relationship. This is not the story of a young woman only looking for a romantic solution for her life, as Maio claims.

In the films following The Little Mermaid (Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Disney explored the possibilities of more independent and capable heroines. These next females are shown as strong-willed women who, in spite of their patriarchal cultures, pursue their own interests and unique talents. Maio asserts that the only improvement in Belle (Beauty and the Beast) is that she reads. Yet, Belle states expressly in a song early in the film that she wants “more than this provincial life” offered to her by the small town in which she lives. Maio reduces Jasmine (Aladdin) to a “comely pawn bandied back and forth” from male to male (par. 20). But Maio seems to ignore the fact that, while she is subject to certain patriarchal demands from her culture, Jasmine repeatedly uses what power she has to stand up to the evil vizier Jafar and to reject suitors—including her future husband Aladdin—in spite of her father’s wishes. Pocahontas becomes romantically interested in John Smith, but she only meets him in the midst of her travels to explore “just around the river bend”. Maio doesn’t mention Esmerelda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. An independent gypsy woman, Esmerelda is capable of out-maneuvering the guards. More than once she, through use of bold speech and decisive actions, deliberately defies the powerful villain Frollo. Esmerelda is dangerous, yet good, and her goal through the entire movie is preservation of self and of her friends no matter what the costs. Romance, though she comes to love Captain Phoebus, is not her focus. All of these Disney heroines do not follow Snow White’s standard, like Maio suggests.

Returning her attention to Mulan, Maio ends her article saying that Mulan is just another girl whom Disney is content to make a happy homemaker like Snow White. Yet, Mulan did not go off to the war to find a husband. She had rejected the pretty-eligible-bride image because it wasn’t her true self. Instead Mulan found that military life suited her because she had a brilliant military mind that she could use to save her country and her emperor. In defiance of the patriarchal norms of ancient China, the emperor commends Mulan, considers her for a position in the government, and urges General Shang to stay acquainted with this unique woman. The film ends with Shang coming to see if Mulan might accept him as a worthy partner.

Disney did much more than change the skin colors and trappings of the more recent Disney heroines. Their personalities and their ambitions did evolve from the Snow-White image. Counter to Maio’s argument, heroines from Ariel to Mulan are not Snow White in disguise.

© Debbie Campbell

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