In my opinion, the role of Disney has remained unchanged for over a period of 30 years. Their main values still remain the same: good triumphs over evil and everyone lives happily ever after. Beauty & the Beast, a classic, and Mulan, a contemporary, both share these values as well. I will now compare the 2 animated feature films.
Both the films have the same narrative structure. They follow the Todorovs’ theorem: Equilibrium –> Disruption –>Journey –> Test –> New Equilibrium.
* They both start off with an establishing shot of the heroines and introduces them through a musical score.
In B & B (Beauty & the Beast), we see the establishing shot of Belles’ house + town and the camera zooms in to Belle. In Mulan, we see something similar. We see Mulan introduced by an establishing shot and then the camera zooms in on her. She then introduces herself and her life/aspirations through a musical score.
In Mulan, we also see that Mulan is introduced through the same way. However, we don’t directly start off with a song describing her but later on we do hear a song brewed after her visit to the matchmaker.
* Both the heroines are very bright, intelligent and brave. They are also unconventional and don’t conform to societies’ view of a woman.
In B & B, we see Belle, during the opening song/introduction, reading a book and then makes her way to the library. Through her conversation with the librarian we learn that she’s really keen on reading and this is the only way she gets in touch with the person that she wants to be. So the librarian gives her this book as a present.
“It’s my favorite! Far-off places, daring sword fights, magic spells, a prince in disguise … Oh, thank you very much!”
Also, during the introduction song, we hear the villagers’ views’ on Belle and her lifestyle. We hear the fat woman saying about how beautiful Belle is and that she’s very bright also. But she’s wasting her life on books and she should get married rather. We then see 3 village girls pumping water out of a water-pump. As we can see, they all look the same; they all have blonde hair and blue eyes. Typical. This is purposely set to show Belle in contrast to the “normal” girls, hence, proving my point.
In Mulan, we see her running through a list of characteristics. Her father is also praying to his ancestors to help her find a husband and bring honour to the house. This establishes her uniqueness from the other girls as well. Later on when she goes to the matchmaker, she hides the characteristics in order so that the matchmaker wouldn’t see it. This also shows that she doesn’t conform with the women of her time and is more manlike.
Later on in the film, we see where the Huns are charging at Shang Li and his band of soldiers, which includes Mulan. We see a pan-shot of the Huns charging down the mountain. Shang Li and his men have only one rocket. We see him, Shang Li, then trying to fire the rocket into the Hun army whilst saying, “we’ll take out as many as we can…”. This is a typical Chinese soldier.
Mulan snatches the rocket away and runs away from the men. She then fires the rocket at the peak of another mountain, which is to the right of the unsuspecting, charging Huns. This causes and avalanche and buries the Huns under a thick blanket of snow. However, the leader of the Huns reaches Mulan and slashes her with his sword before also being
* Both the heroines are prepared to sacrifice their lives for their father and, indeed, do.
In B & B, when Belle’s father is locked up in the beasts’ castle, she goes out venturing to find him. She tells the horse to revisit its’ footsteps and take her to the place where her father is. In due time, she enters the dark, scary castle. She finds her way to the dungeon, in a great co-incidence, she finds her father locked in. Also, at that moment, the beast reveals himself. (This also proves my previous point that she’s brave because she didn’t run away or sth like that…).
Anyway, she interacts with the beast and asks him why did he imprison her father and to let him go cause he’s sick. The beast refuses and tells her that he’s his prisoner and will do as he pleases. She then offers him herself in lieu of her fathers’ freedom and safe return back home. The beast accepts.
The same is the case in Mulan. She sacrifices herself when the emperor’s messenger declares that a man from each house should join the army to defend against the Huns.
* All of the males in both films are portrayed in a negative image.
In B & B, we see Gaston in the beginning musical score/introduction, introduced as arrogant and self-centered. We first see him as he shoots down a goose, which was regarded to be very manly in those days, and start to song about him and Belle. He says that she’s the only one fit to marry for him as she is the only parallel to his beauty and that she’s very lucky that he’s selected her. He’s a stereotypical hero; massive build, handsome, arrogant and fancied by all the girls in town. He’s a parody of the heroes out there.
But further on in the film, when Belle refuses to marry him, he vows to make her marry him through any means. This “evil” statement is also supported through the music.
Also, after Belle shows the mirror to the townspeople to prove that her father is telling the truth, he uses his preplanned scheme to try and force Belle for the last time to marry him or he’ll make the hospital take his father away to the mental institute.
In Mulan, we see Shang Li portrayed as a hero as well; brave and fearless, a good leader, wise and captain of his military squad. But, he isn’t as bright as Mulan is, as I have explained above in my 2nd point.
Also, we see the other 3 men that Mulan hangs around with. They’re dirty, sweaty and ill mannered.
* Both the heroines find the “their man” in the end of the film, the best man.
In B& B, we see Belle in the end with the former “beast” who has now turned back into the prince he was with all his wealth and splendor. She gets him rather than the Gaston, who is also handsome and praised by everyone in the village.
In Mulan, at the end of the film we see Shang Li approach Mulan’s father, supposedly, to ask her hand because we hear the emperor commenting to him about the “once in a lifetime” opportunity he has at hand, which chiefly means ‘marry her’.
Also, they live happily ever after.
In B & B, we see the Belle and the prince dancing in a ballroom, smiling and kissing. Also, the close-ups underline this. Mrs. Pots sings a romantic song, which also reflects the atmosphere.
In Mulan, Mulan is reunited with her family and all is forgiven. Shang Li also comes into the scene, to marry her supposedly. Then the camera zooms out and reveals the picturesque scenery implying the happy atmosphere also.
Similar beginnings and endings.
Both Mulan and B & B start off with a similar equilibrium, then along comes a disruption and causes a change in their lives, because they go on a journey of self-discovery.
Ends in ‘happily ever after’ mode. (REF: Todorov’s Theorem)