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  • My name is Mulan.”

  • Disney's Moana makes a big deal of underlining that Moana is not a Disney princess.

  • “I'm not a princess.

  • I'm the daughter of the chief.”

  • This moment feels like Disney trying to update its brand

  • and get away from the idea of its heroines all being girly-girl princesses.

  • “[SINGS] Someday, my prince will come.”

  • But way before Moana, there was another not-a-Disney princess:

  • Mulan.

  • “I've heard a great deal about you, Fa Mulan.”

  • Since 1998, Mulan has been the go-to Disney heroine

  • for little girls who feel like tomboys,

  • or who feel that the typical Disney performance of femininity

  • just isn't for them.

  • She's a hero

  • She's a woman.

  • She'll never be worth anything!”

  • And that's a really important representation to have.

  • You said you trust Ping.

  • Why is Mulan any different?”

  • Still, Mulan has been a part of the Disney Princess franchise

  • ever since its debut.

  • So, thanks to 20 years of merchandising and marketing,

  • Mulan exists in the collective consciousness as a Disney princess.

  • And it can be easy to forget

  • that Mulan fundamentally is not any such thing.

  • She's a soldier, with no royal connections,

  • and she doesn't follow the basic princess story arc.

  • “[SINGS] Can it be, I am not meant to play this card?”

  • And that begs the question: what is a Disney princess,

  • and why was it so significant that Mulan really didn't fit the type?

  • [SINGS] ”A girl can bring her family Great honor in one way

  • By striking a good match And this could be the day

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  • What actually makes a character a Disney princess?

  • If you wear a dress, and have an animal sidekick,

  • you're a princess.”

  • In the story sense, there are essentially two ways

  • for a Disney heroine to become a princess.

  • She can be born royalty,

  • or she can fall in love with and marry a prince.

  • Unlike almost every other Disney heroine,

  • Mulan has no relation to royalty or nobility of any kind.

  • Her father was a war hero,

  • Fa Zhou?

  • The Fa Zhou?”

  • so she comes from an impressive background, but not a royal one.

  • And she doesn't marry into royalty, either--

  • her love interest, Li Shang, is a captain in the military,

  • decidedly not a prince.

  • Leader of China's finest troops.

  • No, the greatest troops of all time!”

  • [Chuckles]

  • Moana is technically much closer to being a princess --

  • as the daughter of the chief,

  • she is in line to take over an important governing role.

  • A Disney Princess also tends to be defined

  • by some other common patterns in their stories.

  • The Wreck-It Ralph 2 trailer gives us a pretty comprehensive and comical

  • list

  • of these princess qualities.

  • Do you have magic hair?”

  • Magic hands?”

  • Do animals talk to you?”

  • Were you poisoned?”

  • Cursed?”

  • Kidnapped or enslaved?”

  • Do people assume all your problems got solved

  • because a big, strong man showed up?”

  • Strikingly, at least one of these somewhat ridiculous trademarks

  • does apply to every Disney princess, except for Mulan.

  • So even by the princesses' own definition of a princess,

  • Mulan doesn't fit.

  • The princess archetype doesn't only relate to being royal

  • or to these surface-level features, though.

  • On a deeper level, princesses embody traits

  • like optimism, kindness, empathy and caregiving.

  • These gentle traits are traditionally considered feminine in our society,

  • and are therefore, undervalued.

  • But Disney princesses always use their kindness to save the day.

  • What's more, as royalty, they hold a position of power while they do it.

  • This is one of the most positive aspects of Disney princesses.

  • Our people look to her for wisdom and strength.

  • Someday, they'll look to you as well.”

  • Unfortunately, this kind of representation is still rare --

  • female characters still overwhelmingly play supporting roles to male heroes

  • who succeed thanks to their traditionally masculine strengths.

  • Now go be a hero.”

  • And little girls watching so often have to find themselves in side characters.

  • That's a big part of why Disney princesses

  • have such an enduring and powerful appeal

  • for young female viewers.

  • Seeing women heroes whose feminine qualities are celebrated

  • is pivotal for many young girls,

  • or for anyone who sees themselves reflected in that type of character.

  • Mulan definitely isn't devoid of these more profoundprincesscharacteristics.

  • She's very kind, and she's motivated by love for her family above all else.

  • You shouldn't have to go!”

  • Mulan!?”

  • There are plenty of young men to fight for China!”

  • These personality traits just aren't the focus of her story.

  • She's busy fighting a war and saving China,

  • so the features of a typical princess, like caregiving, don't get the spotlight.

  • Mulan's most salient quality is her intelligence.

  • [Shouting] “How could you miss?

  • He was three feet in front of you!”

  • She's always thinking outside the box

  • and solving problems in an unexpected way.

  • She's also brave enough to trust in her mind

  • and do things her own way --

  • and in the story, that means not worrying about

  • conforming to traditional masculinity or femininity.

  • And what if somebody sees you?”

  • Just because I look like a man, doesn't mean I have to smell like one.”

  • During the song, “I'll Make a Man out of You,”

  • she proves she thinks differently than everyone else,

  • because she doesn't not assume brute strength is the only possible solution to every problem.

  • So she might be posing as a male soldier, but she doesn't approach challenges

  • the way the other men around her do.

  • It looks like you're out of ideas.”

  • [Mulan grunts, inhales] “Not quite.”

  • Challenging gender roles with her ingenuity and creativity

  • is how Mulan saves the day,

  • and that's very different from the traditional princess arc.

  • You have saved us all.”

  • There are certainly other Disney princesses who are very intelligent.

  • No one would question Belle's knowledge of literature

  • or Ariel's intellectual curiosity.

  • But Mulan's intelligence -- her different way of thinking --

  • is actually the crucial factor in shaping her plot.

  • If the traditional princess arc centers on achieving justice through love or compassion,

  • Mulan's story is fundamentally about problem solving

  • and defining self-worth on one's own terms.

  • [Whistles] “Hey guys, I've got an idea!”

  • As of 2017, there are eleven princesses

  • officially recognized as part of the Disney princess franchise --

  • and that includes Mulan.

  • Theofficialprincesses include the obvious choices,

  • like Belle, Ariel, Cinderella, and Aurora,

  • as well as some fairly recent additions, like Merida and Rapunzel.

  • This lineup seems a little strange

  • when you realize that Mulan, not a princess, makes the cut,

  • when actual Disney royalty are conspicuously missing,

  • like Anna, Elsa, and arguably Moana.

  • But, this is a shrewd marketing and business decision:

  • Anna, Elsa, and Moana came to be during a time

  • when the world found the princess archetype a little tired and limiting.

  • [Raising her voice] “I suppose a Princess just does what she's

  • told?!”

  • “A princess does not raise her voice.”

  • These new heroines have been praised for being lessprincess-y” --

  • and for pushing aside love interests in favor of their own independence.

  • So, it was pretty logical for Disney to distance recent heroines from theprincessbrand.

  • Back in 1998, though,

  • Disney's approach was to expand the Princess identity.

  • Including Mulan helped the princess brand appeal

  • to kids who might not identify with the hyperfemininity of the other princesses.

  • It was a very deliberate way of allowing some sort of gender fluidity

  • into the definition ofprincess.”

  • [Shrieking] “Your great-granddaughter had to be a CROSSDRESSER!”

  • So today Disney's marketing gets the best of both worlds --

  • having new franchises for modernindependentheroines,

  • while maintaining its widely appealing pastprincessfranchise.

  • And thus appearing progressive,

  • while still selling as much merchandise as possible.

  • Unfortunately, Mulan's representation as a “princess

  • waters down a lot of the progressive work

  • that the movie itself actually does.

  • “I knew there was something wrong with you!”

  • “A woman.”

  • [gasps]

  • Treacherous snake!”

  • Every other Disney heroine before her is overtly feminine,

  • and most have an iconic dress associated with them.

  • So even just the fact that Mulan spends most of the movie disguised as a man

  • sets her apart from the others.

  • Excuse me, where do I sign in?

  • Ah, I see you have a sword!

  • I have one, too.

  • They're very manly and...tough!”

  • But in all of the Disney princess ad campaigns, Mulan's wearing a dress.

  • And in most of these promos,

  • her dress is a version of the one she wears while she sings inReflection,”

  • about how her appearance in this clothing doesn't reflect the person she really is.

  • [Singing] “Who is that girl I see, staring straight, back at me?”

  • It's the dress she wears to try to impress the matchmaker,

  • and when she has to confront the fact that she doesn't fit the role laid out for

  • her.

  • [Shouting] “You are a disgrace!

  • You may look like a bride,

  • but you will never bring your family honor!”

  • So this dress is symbolic of the disconnect Mulan feels while she tries to perform femininity

  • in the way that's expected of her.

  • By marketing Mulan in this dress that's so not her,

  • Disney is fitting Mulan into girlish conventions,

  • even though Mulan's entire character arc is about defying those conventions,

  • and pointing out how alienating they can be if they're not right for you.

  • [Singing] “We help you.

  • Washed and dried.

  • Primped and polished 'till you glow with pride!

  • Just my recipe for instant bride!”

  • In Disney movies where the heroine isn't born a princess

  • but marries into royalty,

  • her newfoundprincessstatus is usually a reward for her pure-heartedness.

  • For example, Cinderella's kindness is rewarded with the prince's love

  • and her escape from her abusive family.

  • In Mulan's case, it's almost as if Disney decided--

  • after the movie was over --

  • torewardher achievements with the princess title,

  • even though the story itself didn't make her a princess

  • But Mulan is a movie about how there are multiple ways to earn honor,

  • and society is wrong to recognize only one.

  • Is she allowed to do that?”

  • So even if Disney views this label as a way to elevate Mulan,

  • falsely labeling her a princess sends a message

  • that there's only one role a female heroine can have,

  • which runs counter to everything Mulan stands for.

  • You don't meet a girl like that every dynasty.”

  • What's even more fascinating is that the plot of the movie sort of

  • tries to make Mulan royalty, and she refuses.

  • See to it that this woman is made a member of my council.”

  • With all due respect, your excellency, I think I've been away from home long enough.”

  • By the end of the movie, Mulan is sure enough of herself

  • that she doesn't need external validation.

  • She can refuse something that others would consider a great honor.

  • Just because it's not that important to her.

  • The greatest gift and honor is having you for a daughter.”

  • What matters to her is her integrity,

  • proving that she can stay true to herself and creating a space for her unique identity.

  • Maybe what I really wanted was to prove I could do things right.

  • So when I looked in the mirror, I'd see someone worthwhile.”

  • So all evidence points to the fact that,

  • if given the choice, Mulan would turn the princess label down.

  • For little kids,

  • it's a lot of fun to imagine being a Disney princess.

  • And there's nothing wrong with relating to the Disney princess identity,

  • if that's for you.

  • But Mulan is really for the girls out there who don't feel

  • that Disney princess is a fit for them.

  • Uh...You fight good.”

  • Mulan reminds little girls that,

  • even if they don't identify with the princess archetype,

  • there's still room within femininity and girlhood for them.

  • So, it's time we stopped labeling her as a princess,

  • because, if anything, the point of Mulan's story is

  • that you don't need to be a princess --

  • or hold any other title --

  • to make your mark on the world.

  • You just need to be you.

  • You are the craziest man I've ever met.

  • And for that I owe you my life.”