Julia Thomas '20
Tappan Zee High School, Orangeburg, New York
The cool leather of the couch beneath me calmed my jittery nerves as I waited in anticipation. My five-year-old eyes began to strain as they tried to keep up with the dissonant colors flashing across the screen. When the drums began to beat more rapidly, I knew it was my cue. This was it, this was my moment.
"Let's get down to business, to defeat the Huns," I sang as Mulan ran across our small box television. I sprang off the couch and skillfully acted out the various tasks Mulan masters, belting out the lyrics to "I'll Make a Man out of You," in between labored breaths. This was my weekend routine as a child, and one that is still performed more frequently than I would care to admit. However, as I have grown, Mulan has become much more than a cartoon with an exceptional soundtrack.
When I was five, Saturday mornings were devoted to Disney. Despite my brother's objections, my sister and I would make sure that our battered tape of Mulan would find its way into the VCR. Something about the film has always appealed to me. Whether it was the menacing yellow eyes of Shan Yu, or the scarlet hues of the dragon, Mushu, the vibrant colors mesmerized me. However, the music was what made this my favorite movie. As soon as a song came on, I treated it as if it were my own concert. My pitchy voice would rise above the rest, cracking on the high notes, but that didn't dissuade me from singing even louder. Li Shang's solos were my favorite, and it is entirely possible that my very large crush on him may have contributed to my ardent love for the movie.
Seven years later, in the calamitous jungle that is middle school, there was less room for my animated idol. The hours I spent on the couch morphed into hours spent at my desk. Instead of rambling on to my friends about Mulan fighting barbarians, we talked about our latest crush. Worst of all, when the movie came on ABC Family, there were times that I could no longer recall the lyrics to my favorite songs.
My love for the film was rekindled in ninth grade. In English class, one of my classmates did a project on Mulan as a hero. Her passionate discourse brought back memories of watching Mulan conquer obstacles on weekends, and I desperately wanted to get home to watch it. I couldn't believe the same childish glee I felt when I saw my animated childhood companions hadn't changed over the years. What did change was that lines that I had once considered to be jokes suddenly had meaning.
Now, as a high school senior, I watch Mulan from a different perspective. Instead of just marveling at the pretty landscape, I am astonished by the altruism of my favorite heroine. At age five, I was unaware of the oppression of women, but watching Mulan triumph despite her disadvantages makes me proud of my younger self for admiring such a noble character. I can't help but wonder if I was subconsciously aware of these things, and they were shaping my values unbeknownst to me. Still, there are times that I watch the movie because the music makes me feel like a kid again, and that's what I need.
Amazingly, we still have that same couch in the living room, and the leather still feels cool when I put in the modern DVD version of the film. I might even admit to singing the songs along with her, and I hope those things never change. What has changed is me. I have caught up to Mulan in age, and while she is forever trapped in that movie, I will continue to evolve. After years of accompanying Mulan on her journeys, I hope that she will continue to tag along on mine.