The Disney Princess Project: “Mulan”

You don't meet a girl like that every dynastyPreviously:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Sleeping Beauty
Beauty and the Beast
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
The Little Mermaid
The Princess and the Frog

I am not done writing about this movie.

“Mulan” is possibly the last great animated film Disney made during its “Renaissance.” The film features a unique visual design that works well for the story, like in “Hercules.” The film also features a terrific lead female character and several fascinating characters that enrich the film.

Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) is the daughter of Fa Zhou (Soon-Tek Oh), who has previously served in the Imperial Army in China. Shan-Yu (Miguel Ferrer) and the Huns have invaded China, meaning that the men in China’s families are being called to serve in the Imperial Army. Mulan, who earlier in the day was called a disgrace by a matchmaker, is horrified by the idea of her father serving in the army. During the night, she decides to disguise herself as a man and take her father’s place in the army. Gong-ringer Mushu (Eddie Murphy) goes to get Mulan in place of the Great Stone Dragon in hopes of becoming a family guardian. When he teams up Mulan, they go to the army camp and meet Yao (Harvey Fierstein), Ling (Gedde Watanabe) and Chien-Po (Jerry Tondo). The troops, under the leadership of Captain Li Shang (BD Wong), prepare to be ready to defeat the Huns.

The most striking aspect of the film is how the characters grow throughout the movie. Yao, Ling and Chien-Po grow to be loyal and competent soldiers over the course of the film. Shang grows to being able to respect Mulan as a woman. Mushu is able to think of other people instead of himself. Mulan grows from a clumsy girl everyone views as a screw-up as the hero of China. In the end of the film, the main characters have grown since they’re introduced and none of them feel like they kill the feeling of the film.

“Mulan” also features great songs by Matthew Wilder and David Zippel. Each of the songs in the film are memorable and work well to reveal a bit of the characters and the world they lived in.

What’s also interesting about the film is how the characters are portrayed. The characters in this film that are human feel much more human than in other movies I’ve looked at in this series of blog posts. Unlike the John Smith or the princes in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty,” Li Shang seems human rather than a hunky, tough Ken doll. Unfortunately, this feels like a bit of progress in the film, although Belle and Jasmine reject the hunky and bland suitors in their films for more flawed love interests.

I really can’t think of anything more to say about “Mulan,” so let’s discuss Mulan the character.

But is Mulan a Good Role Model for Children? Hell yes.

Mulan proves to be a very smart person who by the end of the film is great at creating a plan and fighting. Unlike many of the other characters that are official Disney princesses, Mulan is not motivated to do things in the movie because of a man she just met that she is madly in love with. When she joins the army, it is to protect her father. In the end, her actions end up bringing quite a bit of honor to the Fa family.

What is also interesting is that Mulan and Merida are the two Disney princesses not given a big official love interest. Romantic interest that Mulan has in Shang is implied in “Mulan,” but only confirmed in “Mulan 2,” which we will not get into in this post. Many of Mulan’s actions in the film where she does something to help Shang could be read as her helping her commanding officer or saving the life of her commanding officer rather than someone she is in love with. In the end of the movie, she is only reunited with Shang because he seeks her out to return the Fa family helmet. At that point in the film, the person the most vocal about being interested in Shang is not Mulan, but her grandmother.

However, Mulan is not actually a princess which brings up the question of why she is an official Disney princess.

Mulan is not born into nobility, which means that by birth she is not a princess. She also does not get engaged to someone born into nobility, which is how some of the Disney princesses become princesses. What is also interesting is that there are two princesses in Disney films that are not official princesses. It’s very likely that due to how dark “The Black Cauldron” is and it’s failure at the box office that Princess Eilonwy is not included. As for Princess Kida in “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” she was possibly not included because it would have been difficult to use her in merchandise.

The reason that seems most obvious to me as to why Mulan is an part of the Disney princess court is to defuse some criticism from feminists. This is a character who finally feels comfortable with herself after joining the army. She is never a damsel in distress and spends a good portion of the film not dressed as a woman. She can handle a sword, fire canons and has some great martial arts moves. She is the exact opposite of the characteristics most critics of Disney Princess assign to the princesses overall. It could even be easy to boil the message of the film’s sequel down to “Screw the constraints of a patriarchal society!”

However, Disney does not merchandise Mulan in a way that fits into the explanation I gave. The Mulan costume Disney stores sell is close to her outfit at the matchmaker and features pretty shoes and a fan. The costume is not like the one she wears when disguised as Ping or when she saves the emperor. And unlike with Merida where you can buy a bow and arrow set like the one Merida owns, there isn’t a toy version of the Fa family sword. It almost feels like Disney said “Look! We have a princess who is awesome! But we’re still going to make her really really girly.”

So while I’m conflicted and confused about Disney’s decision to include Mulan as a princess, I have to say she is the best role model in any of the movies so far. It also helps that she is possibly in the best of any of the Disney films I’ve watched for this series.

And now I’ll stop 1,000+ words on “Mulan.”

Will Rahm Really Be a One Term Mayor?

For a while there’s been talk on the internet of making Rahm Emanuel a mayor who only serves one term because people are displeased with what he’s done while mayor, most recently serving as mayor while 50 public schools are approved for closure.

A good question is if he’ll really be a one term mayor. Unless someone really good runs against him, I have a hard time seeing he’ll be a one term mayor. The main reason of this is that a lot of things activists are upset at Emanuel over are things a good chunk of voters might not care about because they didn’t affect them, such as the school and mental health clinic closures. Those who live in communities affected by these things and are aware of the affects from these decisions might be more likely to vote for anyone who isn’t Emanuel.

But for Emanuel to really be defeated, a good candidate has to run against him. And by “good candidate,” I mean “Someone better than Gary Chico, Miguel del Valle and Carol Mosley Braun.” The names that were floated by the Chicago Reader for potential challengers that seem like the people who could likely beat Emanuel are current Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle, Ald. Robert Fioretti of Chicago’s Second Ward and Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Let’s examine the situation of “what would happen if any of these people ran.” If she would run, Preckwinkle seems like the most likely person to beat Rahm. She’s a known politician with a track record people are familiar with. (Sorry, Fioretti and Lewis.) Preckwinkle was outspoken against the school closures and has wanted to reduce how many people are in the Cook County Jail. At a time when liberals are worried about Democrats who label themselves as “liberals” focusing on privatization and helping big corporations out, Preckwinkle has a track record I think has shown people she is a true reformer rather than using a nice buzzword to get votes.

Fioretti could also do well because he’s usually among the small handful of people willing to vote against Emanuel. He was also very outspoken during the school closing hearing process and even participated in a march to save the schools. However, Fioretti might stay on the city council and the thing I think could would hurt him is that he’s not as well-known as the other people I’m mentioning in this post.

Finally, there’s Lewis who could make the election very interesting. She’s someone who’s definitely known in Chicago for taking a stand against Emanuel. However, there were people in Chicago who were displeased by the CTU strike and she might be viewed as too fiery. And if a woman is passionate and fiery in politics and the labor sector that’s a negative to some people. Plus, Lewis might want to be a force for change through fighting for the teachers and the schools rather than being the mayor. Although it would be interesting if Chicago had a former chemistry teacher as a mayor.

Those are the only candidates I could see making Emanuel’s service as mayor of Chicago only last for one term. Maybe someone else will emerge and end up being a good candidate. Maybe Miguel del Valle will run for mayor again and this time get public speaking lessons from nine-year-old Asean Johnson. February 2015 is still quite a ways off. Unfortunately it will take a really strong candidate to defeat an incumbent who can raise lots of money.

“Kinky Boots” or “Matilda”?

The Tony Awards are a week away and I’m more excited than usual for the Tony Awards because something I saw is nominated. (Well, I saw it in Chicago) As people who watch the Tony Awards know, the big award is the award for Best Musical. This is also the award responsible for a good number of the performances on the show as all of the nominees usually perform.

This year the nominees for Best Musical are Bring It On: The Musical, A Christmas Story, the Musical, Kinky Boots and Matilda the Musical, which all show us the different ways you can punctuate titles that include “the musical.” The interesting thing to watch on June 9 will be if Kinky Boots or Matilda will win. Honestly, I’m still scratching my head over the other two nominees.

Both have a good shot of winning the award because they’ve gotten critical acclaim and are doing fairly well at the box office. I also have a feeling that both will run fairly long because one is based on a familiar source and the other is a feel-good musical.

Based on the cast recordings for both musicals, they’re both very well-crafted musicals. The difference is Kinky Boots puts a smile on my face and I start crying during the song “When I Grow Up” from Matilda.

So when making a prediction, this could be framed with the argument of which one will do better on the road. Matilda could arguably do better because it’s a more familiar title and is probably viewed as family-friendly. However, people could also view Kinky Boots as being more likely to tour well because it’s a cheerier musical and less dark. There could also be the argument that Matilda is too British or Kinky Boots is too gay, but that didn’t stop La Cage Aux Folles from being a successful musical. (Coincidentally, both La Cage Aux Folles and Kinky Boots have the same book writer.)

It will be interesting to see who wins, and either way I’ll be happy for the show that does win. Both seem to be very good musicals, although I now regret not seeing Kinky Boots when it was in Chicago.

Some Thoughts On the End of the Congress Plaza Hotel Strike

congress hotel strike

The Congress Plaza Hotel strike ended on Wednesday, almost ten years after it started. The strike is believed to be the longest strike in American history.

The end of the strike is a bit of a sad note because during the time the strike was occurring the standard wage for room attendants in Chicago increased to $16.40 an hour while the standard wage for room attendants at the Congress Plaza Hotel hasn’t increased at all during the strike and will not increase now that the strike is over. (The standard wage at the hotel is $8.83 an hour, which is exactly 58 cents more than Illinois’ minimum wage.)

Although the possibly good things to come out of this strike are summed up by Micah Uetricht over at In These Times

Strikers were constantly picketing in front of the hotel on Michigan Avenue, one of the city’s busiest drags. During the last half-decade, they were less likely to be in front of the hotel and more likely to be paying unannounced visits to companies or conferences that had reserved blocks of rooms at the hotel, telling their stories of hardship at the hands of the Congress and demanding the reservation be canceled. These cancellations alone may have cost the hotel millions over the years.

When companies refused to budge, UNITE HERE would escalate its tactics, often driving their targets insane. I once accompanied the union to a 5K “fun run” for attendees of a healthcare conference whose organizers had refused to cancel their Congress reservations. Strikers jogged alongside baffled spandex-clad runners, shoving fliers in their sweaty hands and explaining the impact of the hotel’s intransigence on their families. One older organizer devised a complicated scheme to make runners believe he had laid a tripline across the trail––he would pretend to pull it taut ahead of them, causing confused runners to halt in their tracks.

I really recommend you read all of his post because it does a great job of detailing UNITE HERE Local 1’s efforts, as well as mentioning how much of a dive the hotel is. (Seriously, I have heard from numerous people that the Congress Plaza Hotel is crappy. Hyatt on the other hand is the subject of criticism for its treatment of workers, but does have reputedly nice hotels.)

Although UNITE HERE keeps a very detailed list of hotels currently on strike and being boycott, most tourists probably don’t look at that list when booking reservations and simply look at how inexpensive the hotel is, its great location and make the reservation. Many big clients who booked the hotel for events backed out because of UNITE HERE. According to the Tribune, a lawsuit between the hotel and the union alleged that the production company for America’s Next Top Model held a casting call at a different hotel than the Congress Plaza Hotel after the union reached out to the production company.

So on the positive side of the story regarding this strike, the union made their voice loud and clear to big groups that would have booked hotel and probably hurt business as a result. If there is a legacy from this strike, it might be that of union members working together to let people know that something is wrong and the effect it had on numerous people both in Chicago and out of the city.