Accidental Aesop: The Training Montage and Mulan failing her matchmaking exam have the same message: "There are no shortcuts." Mulan and Mushu trying to cheat at different tasks end up messing her up, especially when Shang catches her the second time. It's not until Mulan actually puts in the work — climbing up the pole to get the arrow— that she earns her place in the army as well as Shang's respect.
This line during "A Girl Worth Fighting For" as the men see some women: "You can guess what we have missed the most since we went out to war."
Mulan's fake name, "Fa Ping"; today, the name sounds awfully close to the slang term fapping.
Acceptable Targets: The Huns. They have sickly gray skin, and black eyes with yellow irises (only Shan Yu looks this extreme). Such depiction of any civilization that still exists would be considered incredibly racist.
Adaptation Displacement: A lot of people in the West have no idea that the legend of Mulan has been around in various forms since the 6th century AD, and think she's an original Disney character.
Mulan herself mainly averts this, but she is definitely so when she's trying to fit in with the guys and the charm of her goofier moments.
Shang spends most of the movie as a Drill Sergeant Nasty and a Defrosting Ice King. Then Mulan has saved his life and all of China, receiving the most honorable army discharge that the Emperor can give her with his crest and Shan Yu's sword. Shang doesn't know how to thank her, or how to react now that she's no longer his soldier and now available. The most he manages is, "You fight good." Later, it's revealed he found Mulan's helmet after the avalanche, and stammers when trying to return it to her.
Mushu didn't care about bringing Mulan home safe, but making her a war hero to regain his former glory. Selfish, no? And at what point did he start gravitating towards the former? And his approval of Mulan going back to the city to warn the others - is it motivated from the glory he could still get as a result?
Given how the Great Stone Dragon didn't come to life Mushu tried to wake it up, was it a real guardian, or did the Fa Ancestors just delude themselves into believing it was as they though it would do a better job at protecting the family than Mushu.
Some people see Mulan as transgender, mostly because of the lyrics of "Reflection".
Mulan staying during "Make a Man Out of You" despite being essentially discharged for her poor performance. Was it to do her duty and fight to protect her home? Was it to gain Shang's approval? Or was it her way of rebelling against what she had been told and showing she could do what she set out to do? Was it merely an issue of ego? Ultimately the film doesn't say, so you could argue any particular point for why she remained.
Likewise, what is she thinking during the scene where she finds the little girl's doll in the burned-out village? Mulan takes it and hugs it to her chest with an anguished expression. The shock that they were too late to provide help? Thoughts of the little girl at home whose doll she did save? Her own memories of being that age, and feeling her Innocence Lost? Or all three?
Applicability: Though Fa Mulan doesn't adapt a male persona as a result of gender dysphoria, "Reflection" has been heavily embraced by the transgender community, and LGBTQ+ persons in general.
Americans Hate Tingle: Despite famous voice actors such as Jackie Chan and using a local folk tale, the movie didn't do much at the Chinese box office. Some blame piracy, some worry that the native audience took issue with the extensive reworkingof the original myth, and some point to the fact that the Chinese government was in the middle of a bitter and spiteful dispute with the Walt Disney corporation thanks to Disney's Touchstone Pictures label releasing Kundun, which prompted the Chinese to ban its helmer Martin Scorsese from getting back into China and force Mulan to languish for a year before letting it out with an unfavorable release date just after the Chinese New Year's celebration stuffed the box office with other films (on top of that, Kundun was a Box Office Bomb). Ten years later, Dreamworks Animation's Kung Fu Panda would prove much more to Chinese tastes.
More specifically, the character of Mushu got a bad reception in China (where dragons are considered sacred creatures), which is why he was removed from the live-action remake.
Mulan kills thousands of men with an avalanche and shows no remorse; she is far more upset at being discovered and cast out of the army soon afterward. However, there is a great deal of angst to discovering a village that had burned to the ground. Of course the villagers were innocent and the Huns were enemy soldiers who were inches from slaughtering everyone. Not to mention the Huns were the ones who burned that village in the first place, so Mulan was avenging those villagers' deaths as well as winning the battle and protecting the rest of China.
Shang gets this as well; he has a Trauma Conga Line of a day. He finds his father killed, his men caught in an ambush, and an avalanche nearly burying everyone alive. Then the soldier who saved him turns out to be a woman, and he's ordered to kill her per the law; though he spares her, he's not happy. After that, the Huns storm the palace and seize the Emperor; Shang nearly dies fighting Shan Yu and goes Oh, Crap! when the Hun goes after Mulan. He escapes a burning palace. Yet, despite all that, rather than being traumatized, he becomes Endearingly Dorky towards Mulan and shy on realizing she saved his life twice and he likes her. By the end, he's smiling when Mulan invites him to dinner.
Anvilicious: Sexism is bad. It's everpresent throughout the film.
Mushu. People either find him creative and funny, or consider him obnoxious.
Shan Yu. He has a small fanbase due to how deliciously evil he is, but some find him an uninteresting and easily forgettable villain.
Broken Base: The "Mulan is transgender" theory gets a lot of very different reactions. Trans fans like the movie for what many of them they see as Mulan dealing with many of, or at least something similar to, the issues that they go through; the song "Reflection" is often used to describe how trans people feel about body dysphoria (feeling like one gender but looking like another). On the other hand, many Chinese and Chinese-American fans argue that this interpretation misses a lot of cultural context and that the movie's themes deal heavily with Chinese notions of filial piety as well as oppressive Stay in the Kitchen attitudes displayed by some parts of the culture, thus Mulan's decision to dress as a man was not because of self-identification but because that was the only way she could take her father's place and keep him safe. Some feminists believe the more literal versions of the trans interpretation are misogynistic, since it erases the impacts of patriarchal culture and undermines the film's Prejudice Aesop criticizing gender roles by attributing Mulan's achievements to truly being a man rather than a woman Showing Up Chauvinists. Regardless of one's personal interpretation of this opinion, it's indisputably caused quite a rift among the movie's fans.
Catharsis Factor: After being a sexist asshole for the majority of his screentime, even directly ordering Mulan to be killed because she's a woman in the army, it will be immensely satisfying to see Chi Fu lose his job to her.
A common pop feminist hot take in the 2000s was to claim that Mulan "had to become a man" to succeed, and it's still occasionally repeated. Mulan actually fails miserably when she first tries to pass as a man, although not necessarily due to femininity, and more due to inexperience and being too quick to take shortcuts. She succeeds through training and dedication, but even still saves the day out of disguise while wearing a dress to boot! And her attributes that save the day - her quick thinking and cleverness - she already had from the start and had nothing to do with her becoming a man.
Shang and Mulan's romance is an abuse of authority by the former? Even Disney themselves labelled it as such, and claimed that was the reason it was left out of the 2020 remake. Except that Mulan being discovered as a woman is what leads to her being kicked out of the army - so when Shang shows up at the end of the movie, he is no longer her captain. And it's just a Maybe Ever After, with Mulan asking him to stay for dinner, and the two rolling their eyes at Grandma Fa's attempts to set them up. They don't even share a kiss!
Complete Monster: Shan Yu views the Emperor of China having built The Great Wall as both an insult and a challenge. As a violent Blood Knight, Shan Yu leads his horde of Huns to invade, relishing when China knows he's there. After capturing two Imperial spies, Shan Yu releases them with a message for the Emperor—but has one of his archers kill one anyways as you only need one man to deliver a message. Shan Yu later ambushes the armies of General Li at a village, resulting in a mass slaughter, not only of the soldiers, but every civilian as well, with no children spared either. Even after his army's downfall, Shan Yu attacks the Imperial Palace with his remaining men and takes the Emperor hostage, furiously trying to kill him when he refuses to kneel to Shan Yu.
Evil Is Cool: Shan Yu and his mini boss bunch of Huns for the general badassery throughout the movie. Ironically, and probably on purpose, their defeats are all extremely comedic.
Grandmother Fa has more fans than her small screentime would suggest.
The Emperor due to being a Cool Old Guy and quite the badass himself.
"No matter how the wind howls, the mountain cannot bow to it."
Fa Zhou is also well liked for being a caring father to Mulan and averting the Bumbling Dad trope that is common in Disney Films.
Fanon: Shang being bisexual; a common interpretation is that Shang began to develop feelings for Mulan when she was still disguised as Ping although novelizations and other official material show Shang only respected Ping as a soldier rather than view him as a love interest. Others go as far to think that Shang is gay and was upset when Mulan was revealed to be a woman although canonically Shang shows attraction to Mulan as a woman and at the time a woman serving in the Chinese military was viewed as highly shameful as it meant non-conformity to gender roles. Women were expected to stay at home, look pretty, obey their husbands, give birth to sons, and not much else.
"Funny Aneurysm" Moment: The scene where Mushu dupes the Emperor's advisor with a false order to send reinforcements immediately as the general is hard pressed is portrayed as incredibly hilarious. Then we get to the village, and we get to see that Mushu's little ruse was all too real. Mushu himself is visibly taken aback when he sees the devastation, as he clearly sees how correct he was.
Mushu: Good, now slap 'im on the behind. They like that!
In "A Girl Worth Fighting For," Yao teases "Ping" that the "local girls thought you were quite the charmer." Later, Mushu wolf-whistles at a group of young women harvesting rice, making it seem like it came from "Ping." Mulan is embarrassed and hides her face as the women giggle, seemingly flattered.
Inferred Holocaust: Shortly before Shan Yu and his army find the Imperial scouts, you can see a village burning behind them. Implying they had just destroyed it, and probably killed everyone in it. Averted with the little girl's village and the Imperial Army, which skips over the "implied" part.
Informed Wrongness: Chi-Fu refuses to pass the recruits after Shang has finished training them and Mulan has earned her place to stay, hinting it's out of spite for Shang receiving his position out of nepotism. Mushu takes offense and selfishly fakes a letter from General Li, summoning the retinue for the front to get Mulan glory. The recruits not being allowed off to war is treated as a bad, bad, thing, even though being slight of sync (which is possible since Shang's ideas are unconventional at best) with Li's soldiers would prove fatal for Shang's company. Hence in an average scenario, even if Chi Fu's not very nice about it, giving them a Fail would have easily saved their lives and stopped more senseless bloodshed on China's side. Especially egregious is earlier it was treated equally wrong that Mulan's father would even be allowed to go to the camp in the first place, even though this very same Pass/Fail measure would have saved Fa Zhou if Mulan hadn't gone instead.
Iron Woobie: Mulan goes through a lot of frustration just to prove her worth to her family, to her country and to herself. Despite this she never backs down.
Mulan's Action Girl character and her character arc's nature makes her resonate with LGBT people, especially queer women and trans people. Gay and bisexual men have also admitted to relating to Mulan's attempts to blend in by acting Rated M for Manly.
Shang's attractiveness and his interest in Ping makes him popular with queer, gay and bi men.
If you see a picture on the internet that has someone/something looking directly in a mirror, you can expect either the caption or the comments from said image quoting the "Reflection" song.
Go into any room (or bar, or internet chatroom...) full of people who grew up with this movie (people born in the late '80s or early '90s) and sing "Let's get down to business" (the opening lyrics from "Make a Man Out of You"). They will not only finish the line for you, but likely sing the entire song. Also applicable whenever Mulan (the folktale character) makes an appearance in other medias, such when she appears in Smite, which caused players to sing the song when talking about her.
Mushu's "dishonor" rant is particularly quotable to show displeasure or otherwise, particularly the line "Dishonor on you! Dishonor on your cow!"
The limited-time McDonald's Szechuan Dipping Sauce made to promote this movie. After the Season 3 premiere of Rick and Morty turned it, and the fact that it was apparently delicious, into a Running Gag, the internet exploded with requests to McDonald's for it to be brought back. Cue Hype Backlashsinking in after McD's did so.
An exploitable line from Mushu, with obvious applications: "You missed! How could you miss? He was THREE FEET IN FRONT OF YOU!"
The Great Wall soldier's "Now all of China knows you're here" is often used in reference to people who try to do something quietly but accidentally make a lot of noise. If the person who made a lot of noise isn't deterred by this, they'll usually follow it up with the line "Perfect".
The scene where Mulan serves tea (said tea is poured from the pot) while she stares blankly at the matchmaker is put in many generic Disney-referring gifs.
Mulan has got a reputation among some fans as a You Go, Girl! girliness-hating Tomboy. This same fanbase reacts with disgust at her wearing the pink dress in most of the Disney Princess merchandise, claiming it undermines her character. This is ignoring the fact that Mulan's discomfort at the beginning of the movie was over not wanting to let her family down — and that she wanted to be a good wife. On a more superficial level she does actually like how she looks in the pink dress. She seems to wear pink because so many of the other princess characters are colour-coded with blue outfits (Cinderella, Belle, Jasmine and Snow White) and Sleeping Beauty likewise is shown in a pink dress for this reason.
The "Mulan is actually transgender" idea tends to come from Westerners confusing applicability for allegory and thus shoehorning external interpretations of gender roles in the story, rather than anything supported by the text itself. A lot of Chinese American and Chinese fans have reacted rather angrily to this. The problem illustrated in the film is not that Mulan adopts the Fa Ping persona out of a desire to be male — the problem is that the sexist nature of her society, drawing from old-fashioned Chinese views on gender roles, does not allow women to contribute to the war effort, instead forcing them be perfect wives who would birth more sons. Even so, this has led to quite the Broken Base among the movie's fandom.
Fans tend to paint Shang as a jerk for not instantly believing Mulan when she warns them about the surviving Huns. While she was right, Shang can't be blamed for being slow to trust someone who was deceiving him from the very beginning. And he does warn the soldiers to be on their guard, so he clearly believes her to some extent.
Misaimed Marketing: Mulan's placement in the Disney Princess franchise already counted but it reached a new low when the DVD joined the "Royal Wedding Collection". Not royalty, and not getting married to royalty.
Shan-Yu crosses it when he and his soldiers burn down the village at the Tung Shao Pass. There's an Empathy Doll Shot to indicate that even children were not spared. Plus, there's also the helmet and sword of Shang's father, indicating that he too died in the attack. In fact, the Huns butchered everyone — no one is left to tell the tale. The scene abruptly interrupts the "A Girl Worth Fighting For" song, giving it Gut Punch impact.
At first, Chi Fu is simply an arrogant bully and, considering he's a loyal servant of the Emperor himself, can only be considered a villain because of his misogyny. But boy, does he ever make the best (worst?) of that, and when Mulan's gender is outed, he crosses the line by ordering Shang to kill her as though she were a traitor (never mind that she had proven herself a valuable asset to China's army up to that point). He only drives the point home that he's thoroughly unrepentant about his misogyny later on when, after Mulan helps defeat the Huns and save the Emperor, the bully still demands the death penalty in a gesture of blatant ingratitude.
Most Wonderful Sound: When Mulan first sings, and viewers are bowled over by Lea Salonga's beautiful voice — Ancestors, hear my plea...
Older Than They Think: The film is often said to have borrowed elements from Japanese and Korean culture as well. Most of these are in fact Ancient Chinese traditions. The dress Mulan wears for the Matchmaker is mistaken for a kimono, when it is actually a hanfu - a traditional Chinese dress; which for the record is the predecessor of the kimono and hanbok. The make-up likewise is thought to be Geisha, but is actually based off Tang Dynasty make-up (which did influence the Geishas).
The Matchmaker has more screen time than the below examples, but she still only has one major scene in which Mulan embarrasses herself in front of her. The 2020 remake even increased her role so that she got to witness Mulan's heroics.
First Ancestor:(speaking to Mushu) You had your chance to protect the Fa family! Female Ancestor: Your misguidance led Fa Deng to disaster! Fa Deng:(carrying his head under his arm) Yeah. Thanks a lot.
The ordinary Red Shirt who lit the signal tower while Shan Yu was staring him down.
Shang's father, General Li, could be seen as such before riding off to join the rest of the Imperial Army at the Tung Shao Pass. It helps that he's voiced by James Shigeta, a pioneer for Asian-American performers in the 1950s and 60s, who starred in the first Hollywood film with a majority Asian cast (Flower Drum Song).
The unnamed medic who treated Mulan's injury and revealed her true identity to Shang.
Mulan's story of feeling confined by the gender roles and expectations of her society could be taken as a metaphor for being trans, especially with her song "Reflection".
The film is very light on romance compared to its contemporary Disney films, with Shang only being an Implied Love Interest with a Maybe Ever After. Mulan's struggles with feminine gender roles and marriage, combined with Shang's attraction to Ping, leads to speculation of a queer metaphor.
Several gay or bisexual men have spoken about how they relate to Mulan's attempts to fit in with the men and act Rated R For Manly. And of course her crush on Shang has to be kept secret because it would blow her cover, which many LGBT individuals can relate to.
Ron the Death Eater: A mild example with Shan Yu. Many fans and outlets (particularly those discussing the reboot portray him as the epitome of patriarchy and personified sexism that Mulan must overcome. Except, he is actually the only male character in the film with no sexist inclinationsnote Possibly in line with steppe nomads being somewhat egalitarian, making this an extremely strange accusation when there are other flaws to point out.
"Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: There's a lot of combat in the movie, but for the most part it's kept off-screen, or consists of ranged combat at a distance that keeps casualties from being seen. After the outstanding success of DreamWorks Animation's Kung Fu Panda franchise established that ferociously wild, if stylized, Wuxia action with innumerable connecting kicks and punches are now acceptable family entertainment, Mulan comes off as rather timid.
The "I'll Make a Man Out of You" training montage song.
The burned Tung Shao Pass village that the Imperial Army failed to protect.
The avalanche sequence was a solid contender (especially from an animator's point of view).
Shan Yu being blown to bits with fireworks.
The end where everyone bows to Mulan.
Signature Song: "I'll Make a Man Out of You" was by far the film's most popular song for a long time, thanks to its badass power and the affiliated montage. However, "Reflection" has now rivaled it due to a number of factors. It's the first single of Christina Aguilera's career (she even re-recorded the song for the 2020 film's soundtrack), it struck a small chord in the LGBT community, and the 2020 live-action remake made a lot of work out of this song through its trailers.
While Shang not believing Mulan about the Huns having infiltrated the capital city is clearly intended to be a sign that he's just not ready to accept her contributions because of her gender, there is another possible explanation — by lying about being male, Mulan has already proven she's capable of being dishonest. It's more reasonable to believe someone if you've never known them to lie.
While the Matchmaker was being a complete jerkass by calling Mulan a disgrace, she was right to give Mulan a failing grade on the test. Mulan wasn't an impressive bride-to-be (at first): she cheated by writing on her skin, she spilled tea on the table, and even set the woman on fire. She didn't do it intentionally, and there was a cricket but she still did get set on fire, while Mulan was supposed to be proving her best mettle as a wife.
Trans Audience Interpretation: A small portion of the fandom sees Mulan as transgender - due to Memetic Mutation of "Reflection". Some trans fans relate to the lyrics "when will my reflection show who I am inside?" when Mulan is mainly singing about how she feels she can't live up to the high standards society demands of her, and because she cross-dresses as a man. Chinese feminists have taken offence to the trans interpretation, as it disregards the strict gender hierarchy of Chinese culture where women were viewed as being far inferior to men, as well as how Mulan is motivated by a sense of filial piety to cross-dress in the first place. Mulan shows discomfort with the strict gender roles forced upon her in her life rather than being biologically female.
Values Resonance: One of the reasons Mulan has been such a beloved character among Disney fans for so many years is not just for being an Action Girl, but for being a relatable female who's allowed to be flawed and mess up while still being a virtuous character (as well as getting to be funny and subverting Women Are Wiser). Rather than being a Flawless Token, she's shown as having to work for her success and she earns the respect of her comrades entirely because of her efforts. Sure, they still believe her to be a man at that stage, but the reveal of her true gender doesn't make them question her competency once. Mulan gets to save the day through her quick-thinking and cleverness, rather than just being impossibly powered. And while she's uncomfortable being made over to impress the Matchmaker, it's not because femininity is bad, but because she feels unsuited to what's expected of her.
Viewer Gender Confusion: Cri-Kee is officially male, but the character has a fairly ambiguous design, never talks, and is pretty much never referred to by male pronouns.
The conscription call has reached Mulan's village, and it is explicitly stated that every family must send a man off to war. Mulan, who is hiding in her family's court yard, hears this. Her society is prejudiced against women and her father, though affectionate and permissive, adheres pretty strictly to what honour demands of him.
You'd Expect: She can't make things better, but at the very least she try not to make things worse. Or wait for her father to get the conscription call and appeal to him not to go in private.
Instead: She runs out and interrupts her father in front of a crowd full of people who place great value on patriarchy and filial piety.
As A Result: Nobody listens to her, her father feels dishonoured and betrayed by her actions and thus closes himself off to her appeals.
Woolseyism: The Chinese dub calls the Huns the Xiongnu, which is more historically accurate as the Huns are best known for invading Europe under Attila. It is theorized that the two groups were related. This is also supported by Shan Yu's name, which sounds a lot like Chanyu, the title for the ruler of the Xiongnu.
Mulan really makes you feel for her after her disaster with the matchmaker, especially when she sings about her struggles in "Reflection". And when she's abandoned in the mountains and left feeling like a worthless failure, it's again very easy for the viewer to feel sad for her.
Captain Li Shang sees his father's army (and presumably a lot of his friends and fellow students) butchered in the aftermath of a Hun battle. Due to The Chains of Commanding, he can't show his grief or accept any comfort from his men. Later, when the Chinese are victorious thanks to Mulan, he's visibly uncomfortable while the citizens praise him, since he had to discharge the real hero after her gender was revealed.
The majority of the film's actors are East Asian. Why on Earth is the very white Harvey Fierstein'' of all people playing a short angry Chinese man? (Although to Fierstein's credit, he was reluctant to take the role at all and wanted to have an East Asian-American actor do it instead, only agreeing after seeing the cast list and being assured that the vast majority of the actors were of the proper ethnicity).
By this logic, June Foray is also an odd choice for Grandma Fa. She's hilarious in her few scenes, but it is admittedly strange to hear the voice of a diminutive white woman voicing a Chinese grandmother.
Mushu being voiced by African American actor Eddie Murphy is also fairly questionable and noted to be out of place in the setting even by those who like him.