Comparing the Disney movie Mulan with Chinese poem

Categories: Poems
About this essay


The Walt Disney Company has produced some great movies over the years that have impacted many peoples lives, especially younger audiences. One of the great movies they have produced is Mulan, a story about a girl who takes father’s place in army to save his life.

Producers of this movie said that they were inspired by original Chinese poem “Ballad of Mulan”, which was written around 5 AD. This poem was inspiration to many authors, as Xu Wei and Chu Renhuo, who added other motives to their versions.

Today, in China nearly everyone has learnt about this heroine from the “Ballad of Mulan,” an extremely popular ballad. It is now included in the textbooks of nearly all Chinese schools and students, who are often required to recite the melodious ballad, the source of all other forms of art about Hua Mulan, such as paintings, poems, novels, plays, musicals, songs and dances.

The exact purpose of this paper is to compare, analyze similarities and differences between the Disney movie „Mulan” and Chinese poem „Ballad of Mulan”.

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The “Ballad of Mulan”

The Origin of the Ballad

The origin of Mulan’s story came from one folk song in the North Wei Dynasty (386 AD – 557 AD) which was called The Ballad of Mulan . It was transcripted in 6th century. The text of this poem comes from Music Bureu Collection, an anthology of lyrics,songs and poems which were accumulated by Guo Maoqian in period of 11th or 12th century, which no longer exists.

Mulan’s story appears later in the Ming Dynasty; then in 1593, Xu Wei wrote a play in two acts named The Female Mulan (The Heroine Mulan Goes to War in Her Father’s Place); in the 17th century Chu Renhuo wrote historical novel Sui-Tang Romance.

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There are also many versions of Mulan’s story but these are most important ones. One common thing that all of them have is a plot – She was doing housework when she heard that Emperor’s soldiers were recruiting new ones due to starting war. To save her father from dying in the battle, Mulan went disguised as a man instead of him.

Analysis of the Ballad

The oldest known Ballad of Mulan has 31 couplets and is composed of mostly five-character phrases. It’s actually very short, considering how deeply Mulan has been deep-rooted in Chinese folklore, legend, and even pop culture. It’s length totals less than one-thousand words, and as a result many details of Mulan’s life and story are left untold. In the first phrase, at the beginnig, on Mulan’s heart and mind is how to save her father from going to war. She is worried because he is sick and he don’t have anyone to replace him- no grown-up son, only younger Mulan’s brother and elder sister. In the second phrase, she is preparing for war by bying a horse, a saddle, a bridle and a long whip.She leaves her parents with their blessing and goes to join army in her father’s place. Next phrase is about Mulan’s twelve years in the Chinese Army and about last very important battle,which they won. In the fourth phrase, she goes with army to the Emperor, to receive promotions and prizes, where she asks only for mount to ride home. Last phrase, shows Mulan returning home with her army companions, and after warm acceptance from her family, she reveals her true gneder by showing up in her old chlothes in front of her old companions. They were amazed and then she points out that even if two rabbits are different, when they are running side by side on the ground, it’s hard to determine if it’s a female or male rabbit.

Disney movie “Mulan”

Analysis of the Disney movie

Movie begins with the Huns invading China by arriving at the Great Wall. The Emperor calls for one man from each family to serve in the Imperial Army. On the other side, beautiful but socially unadjusted Fa Mulan goes to ruinous meeting with “Matchmaker”, and after that founds out that her father, being only man in the family, has to go to the war again although he can’t walk without walking stick. She chooses to take matters into her own hands and go instead of him, by taking his armor and sword without his knowledge, cutting her hair off and riding off to army’s camp.

Seeing what Mulan did, her father prays to their family ancestors to protect her. After consulting, the Ancestors decide to send little dragon named Mushu to awake the Great Stone Dragon, and when he fails, he is forced to go by himself and protect Mulan. Mushu is on his mission to regain his honour to Ancestors, and it’s willing to do anything to achieve it.He is giving advices to Mulan how to blend in with the soldiers, which commander is young, unproven Captain Li Shang. Mulan introduced herself as a Ping, and with her friends Yao, Ling and Chien-Po, through the training courses and supervision of Captain Li, they become skilled warriors.

Mushu, aiming to his goals, makes false note from Captain’s Li father, General Li, to send his troops in big battle into the mountains, where battle was finished with no Chinese survivors. As they continue their road, Mushu gets on fire whole carriage with explosives and attract Hun army attacking them. With Ping’s cleverness, to fire one of the rocket into the mountain and cause an avalanche to burry Hun army, Captain Li and army is rescued but Ping is hurted in chest by Hun’s lead Shan Yu. When she woke up from recovery, learns that everyone founded out that she was a female, when they tended heirs wounds. Captain Li banishes her from army but spares her life because she saved his.

The army continues their way to China’s capital with news that Huns are finally defeated, when Mulan founds out that few of Huns with Shan Yu, survived. She tries to warn Captain Li, but he refuses to listen because of her betrayal. When they arrive to Imperial city, the Emperor is trapped in Palace by Huns. Mulan, again with her cleverness, with her three friends enters in Palace disguised as concubines, and later, in face-to-face battle with Shan Yu, tricks and defeats him.

Mulan is praised by the Emperor and gets bow from him and everyone present, but refuses a job as Emperor advicer with respect and takes Shan Yu blade as a gift. She returns home, with her family pleased that she is alive, and later comes Captain Li to return her helmet and stays at the dinner with Mulan’s family. Mushu also gets credit for Mulan’s success and restores his place in the Ancestal chapel.

Disney’s adaptation of ballad to movie

One of producers of the movie, Tony Bancroft, on interview about creating Fa Mulan as a character said that, at the time, he had two daughters and was inspired to create: “· a unique heroine that hadn’t been seen before. I wanted to give them someone who would be strong on her own, without a prince saving her.” He said that she is different because she changes the world around herself, not self. What he wanted to say through character of Mulan is that “you should be true to yourself”. Mulan was not a basic Disney story; it was the first time that Disney explored a new ways of telling a story, not on the European but Orient, the Eastern style.

However, this wasn’t first idea. This movie was originally planned as an animated short named “China doll” about a girl which is enslaved and depressed, but is taken away to happiness in the West by a British Prince Charming. Yet, a children’s author Robert San Souci, was consultanted by Disney, when he suggested that they should expand the tale into an adaptation of the Chinese poem “The Song of Fa Mu Lan”.

Another one of his influence as a storywritter, who retold and researched the original story, said that Disney didn’t want to include dragon as Mulan companion,as he would be too big and scary for children. Then, he pointed to them, that in Chinese culture, a dragon is important and it can be any size, so they approved small dragon-and that is how Mushu is created. One of the character who is also not exsisting in the original poem and it was created for movie only, is the Mulan’s cricket, named Cri-kee. He was added because the crickets are considered good luck in China.

With “Mulan”, Disney did a lot of things for the first time, among exploring and using Eastern style. It was the first Disney cartoon to feature an Asian heroine; first Disney animated film to openly deal with warfare; the first ever DVD, released in November 1999.

Comparing the movie and the ballad

Similaritites betweeen the movie and poem

Values that were presented in movie and Chinese values for women to bring honor to her family by being good married woman, are the same. In the feudal society, as it were in China, women are considered inferior to men and must hold their tongues in men’s presence. It’s clearly presented in movie, in scene when the Emperor’s messenger is calling out Mulan’s father name, she appears in front of him asking to have mercy upon her’s old and sick father, and spare him. He was offended by her approach, telling her that she is rude and will never be good married Chinese woman.

Mulan was good and skilled warrior in both movie and ballad, and also remained good friends with her army comrades.

Mulan is a traditional Chinese woman who does chores and she resumes her female gender upon arriving home by dressing up. Also, confirmation that she is traditional is that, in both movie and ballad, she wanted to return home to take care of her parents instead moving to high office.

Differences between the movie and poem

Plot details in the film, like writing notes on her hand for “Matchmaking” event, using help from her dog to feed the hens, make it quite clear that Mulan was born with free spirit and behaves accordingly. Such traits are absent in the original Chinese “Balad” , which says little about Mulan’s personality and reveals few details about her life as a daughter before her enlistment in disguise.

In the Disney movie, Mulan takes fathers place in army without his knowledge. She swaps her hair clip with his enrollment notice, takes his armour and sword, leaving on horse to join army. In the Ballad of Mulan, she leaves to join the army with support from her parents.

In the ballad, she has a elder sister and younger brother, who is too young to fight instead of their father, whereas in the Disney version of the story, Little Brother is family pet dog. Dog is not only animal who is part of Mulan’s life – Disney’s version of Mulan also includes magic: the comical Mushu, the cricket, and ghostly ancestors add humor to the movie. Since the movie was created specially with young children in mind, the producers had to add happier touches as comic relief.

Mulan’s time spent in army seems very short in movie, but on the other hand, in the tale, she spent twelve years before returning home accompanied by her comrades, and through that time, she doesn’t reveal her true gender, it’s only after arriving. They are shocked and amazed at the same time, and are having a lot more respect and admiration than before. Where in the movie, other soldiers discover her true gender by accident and on first, they are dissapointed but later, they are proud of her.

In contrast to the ballad , which describes the heroine’s military career in only a few lines with hardly any detail, the movie goes on to portray Mulan’s success in the military expedition in terms of her wisdom, courage, persistence, and skills acquired through intesive training.

In the movie, she has love story with Captain Li, whereas in ballad, there is no any indicators showing that she is thinking about love with a man, her thoughts are with her family and how much she misses them.

Mulan is, in the movie, rewarded with the sword of Shan Yu, the emblem of the Emperor and a place at the palace which she doesn’t accept, and still, in ballad, she kindly refuses all rewards and wants a ride to home.

In the movie, a lot of cultural references were done right, so a few of them which were incorrect, were easy to spot on, like that Forbidden City haven’t even begin construction until 14th century, and Huns desisted to exsist about one thousand years previous.


“Ballad of Mulan” was written in 6th AD, even then the traits like respect, devotion, courage to be yourself, were very appreciated moral values in society. That is one of the reason why the story of Mulan lives by today. Disney expanded a story by adding a lot of details such as: magic creatures like talking dragon, personificated cricket, horse and dog; details about Mulan’s life with family before army; women’s duties in feudal societies; lovestory characteristic for every Disney movie; events from Mulan’s time spent with Chinese army; friendship with her companions in army· Although the Disney movie and Chinese poem are having a lot of differences, the core of both stories brings same message; a woman can fight as just as hard as any man, when there is a need for it; being true to yourself is very important in life; family is more worth than possesions and positions; it’s good to have personal traits like being independent, quick-witted, caring, having own opinion· The story of a girl who can’t help who is she, but she exsists in a different society that tells her who she is supossed to be, will be forever remembered and told because everyone has a little of Mulan inside himself.


[1] Martin, Sami K. (March 12, 2013). “Tony Bancroft on ‘Mulan’: ‘I Want to Bring Christian-Based Values to All My Work'”. The Christian Post. Retrieved February 23,2014.

[6] Shaffer, Joshua C. (September 22, 2010). “Mulan”. Discovering the Magic Kingdom: An Unofficial Disneyland Vacation Guide. United States: AuthorHouse. ISBN 978-1-4520-6312-6. Retrieved March 11, 2014.


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Comparing the Disney movie Mulan with Chinese poem. (2019, Dec 11). Retrieved from

Comparing the Disney movie Mulan with Chinese poem
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