The whole "Strength and Discipline" trick has a very interesting discussion on the movie's Headscratchers page. Essentially, not only are the weights Strength and Discipline needed to climb, but without actual strength and discipline, it'd be impossible to figure out the trick and reach the top.
Towards the end of the movie, Mulan's secret is revealed. Before Shang almost kills her, she says "I did it to save my father." What makes this line so meaningful to Shang is that he recently lost his own father in battle. This might have been an intentional low blow to help gain sympathy from Shang.
Take a look at Khan (Mulan's Horse) and Shang's Horse. The feminine dark Yin and the masculine light Yang.
It's very easy to dismiss the subplot involving Cri-Kee in Mulan as simple Rule of Funny—everyone believed he was lucky when he truly wasn't, thus explaining why so much went wrong when people depended on him for luck; case in point, Mulan's session with the matchmaker. However, unless Grandma was really lucky on her own, there's no way she could have made it across that road without Cri-Kee's luck. If Cri-Kee really IS lucky then why did he cause so much trouble with the matchmaker? Sure, he may have just been trying to escape, or hated being taken advantage of, or he was just a little troublemaker, or because he believed himself unlucky the thought of him being there to help Mulan terrified him but then the answer comes: if Mulan had passed the matchmaker's assessment, she would have become "a perfect porcelain doll", married some rich man her parents chose for her... and then all of China would have fallen to the Huns, and she would never have proven she could bring honor by her own individual merit instead of through marriage (not to mention find a fine man all on her own, thank you). Therefore, even though it didn't feel like it to her at the time, being humiliated before the matchmaker was the luckiest thing that could ever have happened, for her or for China.
A lot of people were annoyed that Eddie Murphy was cast as Mushu, the disgraced Chinese Dragon sent to help Mulan. (Sort of) Everyone else in this movie was Asian-American, so why not Mushu? Look at what he is; he's selfish, lighthearted, joking, obsessed in regaining his reputation, and willing to pull a few strings in order to get what he wants. OK, but what's the big thing? He breathes fire. Now fire breathing is normally a Western Dragon trait. Western? Wait a minute. That's it. The whole reason Eddie Murphy was cast as Mushu was to help amplify the idea of throwing Western values into the Chinese society. No wonder he's so out of place.
A troper with a grasp of Chinese history will appreciate the plotline and story a lot more (with the entire conflict between the Xiongnu and the Imperial Authority).
During Mulan's preparations for meeting the Matchmaker, one of the women getting her ready sings that she'll turn "this sow's ear into a silk purse". The thing is, the proverb specifically states that it can't be done, just like Mulan could never be the perfect little doll that everyone expected. Nevertheless, the woman was stating how she knows its impossible, and is accepting the challenge.
When Khan first sees Mushu, he reacts by stomping on the dragon. The enemy of the Horse in the Chinese Zodiac is the Snake, which the Horse tramples as the Snake bites at its legs.
As for the Great Stone Dragon not waking up to the gong, Mulan sat under that very statue when she made her decision to run away to the army and take her father's place. Mushu couldn't wake the dragon up because its spirit had already left with Mulan, inspiring her to courage!
At 9 years old, "Be a Man" "I'll Make a Man Out Of You" was just another catchy Disney song. At 21, it suddenly hit me that the chorus is a reference to Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Let's compare:
We must be swift as the coursing river With all the force of a great typhoon With all the strength of a raging fire Mysterious as the dark side of the moon
"Let your rapidity be that of the wind, your compactness that of the forest. In raiding and plundering be like fire, in immovability like a mountain. Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt."
Also, "tranquil as forest, but on fire within" is a reference to the black side of the yin yang. Very clever lyrics, indeed. -The Shadow
Mulan is considered as an official Disney Princess despite not being royalty, by birth or marriage. Had she ended up marrying the wrong guy at the end of the sequel, she would have become a princess herself! In the first move she can be considered a princess because of the crest her country's emperor gave her and the fact that everyone, including the emperor, bowed to her; being bowed to was a big honour... especially since it came from the emperor himself.
Mulan uses a fan, an object that is a symbol of femininity, to defeat Shan-Yu.
Noted in a WMG, the letter that Mushu gave Chi Fu was exactly what was needed for Shang's troupe to arrive in time to save the day. Now think about who actually WROTE the letter for a second... That is one lucky cricket.
The Emperor's statement, "Though the wind howls, the mountain cannot bow to it," may come directly from "The Taming of the Shrew", act II scene I's "To the proof/As mountains are for winds/That shake not though they blow perpetually".
The Emperor bows to Mulan but refuses to bow to Shan-Yu. The mountain doesn't bow to a simple strong wind like Shan-Yu's demands. But Mulan impresses the Emperor through several heroic deeds, the way a mountain is gradually eroded by consistent winds.
The entire training sequence might just seem like typical slapstick comedy, but upon further examination—of course the men sucked at first, they were all recruited from their respective villages, and had probably never held a weapon in their lives. However, not being nobility, they would have had to be pretty fit to work in their respective occupations, which explains why they are able to complete the running exercises and why they improved so quickly.
This also explains why Mulan has such a hard time fitting in and keeping up, eventually washing out of training because of those same running exercises; she's only used to chores around the house and farm, not hard labor.
Pretty subtle but since we're going with the fact that Mulan means "wood flower," which this troper only found out now, the analogies that Fa Zhou and the Emperor, her father and a father-figure respectively, give are awesome BookEnds. Near the beginning, after the disaster with the matchmaker, Fa Zhou compares his daughter to a late blooming flower. Towards the end, the Emperor implies to Shang that she's the "most rare and beautiful" of flowers because she "blooms in adversity". Bonus points because she hits her stride from the mountain attack up north — where the movie goes out of its way to point out that it was still snowing and by rights the battle with the Huns was not easily won (it took cunning and risk to pull it off), so technically she blooms in the dead of winter.
It's been pointed out in several places that Mulan could have gone home after washing out of boot camp, but chose to stay because of her pride and sense of personal honor. That's true, but it's also quite likely that with his "son" unsuitable and the troops still close to town, Fa Zhou probably would have been compelled to join up. Of course, he could have been dismissed too, but either 1. boot camp would have been bad for his health or 2. Shang would never actually dismiss the great Fa Zhou and ask him to serve in an advisory capacity due to his physical disability, which still means he's going to face the Hun army unless Mulan finds a way to stay in.
The Emperor is shocked, then rather amused when Mulan hugs him. Besides being a father figure to China, we find out in the sequel that he has three daughters roughly Mulan's age. Normally, no, you are not allowed to hug the Emperor, but seeing as he's a doting father and "has heard a great deal about" Mulan, maybe that includes the story about her father, he cuts her a little slack.
This troper is Vietnamese (born and bred in Hanoi), and she doesn't know if it’s the same in Chinese culture (granted, the two cultures are extremely similar due to China's multiple attempts on Vietnam), but she has just realized something brilliant about Mulan's names. In Vietnam, we have a term for a vapid, apparently quiet and demure and well-behaved but is simply an airhead of a woman: “bình bông di động”. Which basically means “moving flower-pot”. And in Mulan’s time? Being a moving flower-pot is what females are expected to do - be quiet, obey your parents and husband, be pretty and graceful and virtuous, stay in your/your husband’s ancestral home, produce heirs to preserve the family lineage, etc. (As evident in Honor to Us All and A Girl Worth Fighting For.)Both her make-up in Honor and her false name are masks. Society dictates that she cannot marry into a good house if she’s not a flower-pot, and no matter how valiantly she fights, how clever she is, she is still just a woman, which is seen as something shameful. No matter what she does, the society will insist upon labeling her as vapid and worthless without a man. But at the end of the day, Mulan’s story is a big “screw you” to the ideal of the flower-pot. She still fulfills her filial duties as set by Confucian values without being erased by society: she is lauded as a hero(ine) of China (preserving her family name and bringing honor to her ancestors), she marries Shang (a man of great station, whom she loves, as opposed to the traditional arranged marriages) and by this she can, to use a Vietnamese term, “keep the incense burning on the family altar,” i.e. produce children. She proves that you do not need to be a flower-pot to be a dutiful, ideal wife and daughter.
Even better: Her birth name. Fa Mulan. Mulan means “wood orchid”. (Yes, I know it also means “magnolia”) Orchids and magnolias cannot be put in pots. Ever. Period. Mulan is someone who is at once noble and beautiful and strong and will not be confined, just like the flowers she is named after.
Better still: Magnolias are an example of what is known in botany as a "perfect flower" - that is, a flower with both male and female reproductive parts. Mulan may not be physically intersex, but considering her crossdressing shenanigans it seems so appropriate that her namesake flower is naturally a perfect balance of both male and female.
One thing that's circulated around the various pages are questions regarding the small size of Shangs unit. Which, upon close examination is barely platoon strength (by modern force organization standards). His father, a General, leads a much larger unit of Mounted Infantry note Infantry that only uses their horses for travel, but fight on foot . Basically, Shang, a Captain, is leading a support contingent of this larger force. What's the evidence? Watch the training sequence, and notice how the trainees are basically getting lots of practice in with Cannons, and Bows, but very little with close combat (beyond some basic hand-to-hand training, and calisthenics). In the mountain battle, Shang orders everyone to save the cannons, as well as ordering everyone to get out of range of the arrows, which is something regular line infantry NEVER do when attacked, they usually close the distance, or seek cover. Support units are trained to fall back, and avoid direct contact where possible, but once they get set up, the party begins. In short, and in modern terms, the unit that Mulan is part of, is basically a Mortar detachment of Shang Sr.s Mounted Infatry Brigade... all of which is going up against a Hun army of ten thousand strong...
I was listening to the song "A Girl Worth Fighting For", and there's a line where Yao tells Ping/Mulan "And the local girls thought you were quite the charmer." Of course Ping is a charmer! It's Mulan, a woman who can relate to these other women. Think about it. Ping treats women the way Mulan wants to be treated; he doesn't have the misogynistic views of his comrades because Mulan knows what it's like to be on the receiving end of these beliefs; and he doesn't get caught up in the "manly ways [that] are sure to thrill her" antics the other guys pull because Mulan isn't impressed by it.
The soldier in the opening sequence. He knows he is going to die but he fights as hard as he can to use his last few seconds of life to set off the Great Wall's warning-torch-system, and then stands up to the scary Shan Yu before his death. Thanks to him, Shan Yu fails. Without his warning, the Huns' entry into China would have gone unnoticed, and the entire country would have likely fallen to invasion due to being completely unprepared for war.
Soldier to Shan Yu: Now all of China knows you're here.
Similarly, is hearing the Matchmaker's song at 21 where you suddenly understand "Scarier than the undertaker wearemeeting our matchmaker".
On another note, to the women who wanted to find a husband, this was the woman who held their entire future in her hands. If they made a good impression then they would get a good husband but if they did poorly then they would get a bad husband if she even matched them up at all.
Mulan admits to herself that she partially went off as to prove to herself that she was worth something; had she passed the matchmaker's test, yes she'd still be horrified but she might not have left.
In an earlier draft of the script Mulan did pass the matchmakers test, things only went pear shaped after meeting her chosen husband... Shang.
Considering the patriarchal-to-the-point-of-misogynistic nature of Chinese culture at the time, if Mulan's father had gone to war, the matchmaker would have been the only choice for survival she would have had...
So Mushu scares the firework men from the tower and they jump off... at least six stories...
Okay, so Shang finds out "Ping" is Mulan, freaks out, spares her life—and then leaves her to find her way back home...in the snow...during a war. She still had her clothes and horse and stuff but she's alone and a long way from home.
Thanks to one little Youtuber on ''I'll Make A Man Out Of You'', we now realize that the movie would've ended quite sooner if he took a peek in her shirt at 0:52...
The fact that Shang's entire army is able to fit behind a single boulder obviously has some horrifying implications as to what happened to the rest of the soldiers...