For as long as I can remember, I’ve tried to find DVDs for my daughter that featured strong female role models rather than the usual submissive princesses who wait for their dorky prince to come. You’d think by now there would be plenty of mainstream heroines for a three-year-old girl to watch, but they’ve been few and far between.

A little while back, though, I discovered Disney’s Mulan, which features a young girl turned warrior, and I was surprised I hadn’t heard of it before. According to the description, this didn’t sound like the usual crap for little girls, so I brought it home for Hannah to watch – and she loved it. For the next few weeks she kept asking to watch it again and again, and she would often zip around the house singing songs from the movie.

Now, this weekend we celebrated Hannah’s fourth birthday, and she originally wanted a (shudder) Cinderella party. But after watching Mulan a few times, she dumped that idea and announced – quite forcefully – that she wanted a Mulan party instead. Good for her!

But we quickly discovered that Mulan wasn’t the hit that Disney hoped for. We couldn’t find Mulan stuff anywhere, so I ended up using Google’s image search to find pictures from the movie that we could use for decorations. And while Cinderella birthday cakes are easy to find, we couldn’t find anyone local who made Mulan cakes. After a bit of searching we finally located someone who could take a picture of Mulan and turn it into a cake, but other bakeries refused to do so due to copyright concerns.

Anyway, the party was a hit, and it was worth the extra effort. But once she tires of Mulan, what else can I show her? I’m not raising her to wait for someone else to make her happy, and it would be nice if there were more DVDs like Mulan for her to watch.

22 thoughts on “Mulan

  1. Beauty in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is also quite a strong character, and I’ve always thought it is a notch above most Disney movies, both for the content and the songs.

  2. Hi Nick,
    Perhaps it’s not a movie for a 3-year-old daughter, but in a few years time “Sindbad” is worthwhile looking at. The heroine makes it clear that she knows what she wants … ;-)
    Cheers and don’t go astray path-wise!

  3. Well, the family standby for our 3 year old daughter is Finding Nemo, but we also get a lot of milage out of both Toy Story’s, A Bugs Life, and Iron Giant. Iron Giant is my favorite (as the so called adult), and it’s perhaps best suited for a young boy, but my daughter is quite the tomboy and really enjoys the movie.
    The Veggie Tales videos are great, and the Jonah full length movie is excellent, and I also liked Treasure Planet and Tarzan from Disney. They all get regular disk play in my household.

  4. Try Josie and the Pussycats, Lilo and Stitch, the Little Mermaid, the Lizzie McGuire Movie, Mary Poppins, Mathilda, Pocahontas (1&2), Spirited Away, Spy Kids (1&2&3) and Thumbelina. All have strong female characters, and my girls liked them all. If she is old enough, then movies like Legally Blonde, Miss Congeniality and Princess Diaries would work. Then when she’s in her teens, she’ll love the entire 7 seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

  5. Well, there’s a sequel – Mulan II, which you can try. Also, I’d recommend Mononoke-Hime (Pricess Mononoke. Both are to be found in IMDB.

  6. I second the high recomendation for movies by Hayao Miyazaki. I’ve seen most of the other excellent movies recomended, but these simply blew us (adults as well) away. For example, Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (Spirited Away), features a very believable 10 year old girl, who shows fantastic courage and resourefulness when rescuing her parents from a spirit world they get trapped in by accident. It’s a very magical tale, highly recomended!

  7. I agree that Pippi Longstocking is a good, strong female character. For when she gets a little older, keep this great book in mind: “Ronia, the robber’s daughter”. Astrid Lindgren, who also wrote the books about Pippi, is a celebrated children’s writer whose books are known and loved by children all over Scandinavia. I don’t know what the translations to English are like though. The swedish film version is fantastic.

  8. Um…ABORT MISSION on Princess Mononoke; while it is a fantastic movie, it is NOT for small children. However, several other of Miyazaki’s movies would be perfect – Kiki’s Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky, Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro all feature very strong young female characters and fantastic imagination-sparking imagery. You might want to wait on Spirited Away until she is a little older…there’s a little scary stuff in there (though nothing permanently bad happens to anyone).
    As for non-Miyazaki stuff…well, the pickin’s become slim. The Powerpuff Girls are good, if a little violent. My daughter, who is ten, likes to watch Kim Possible and Teen Titans (Raven is her favorite).
    I feel like I’m forgetting something, though…if I remember it later I’ll add it.

  9. Hey Nick,
    Along with the many good suggestions above, my girls liked the movie “Matilda.” It features a strong, independent young heroine. Actually, most of the main characters in this one are female.

  10. I’m going to second the recommendation for the Studio Ghibli movies. (Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Totoro, Castle in the Sky) While Spirited Away has some intense images, it doesn’t have any real “bad guys” in the Disney sense. I’d start out with Kiki, and go from there.

  11. As already mentioned, Veggie Tales are great, as are Spy Kids movies. My kids love both and the role models are certainly better than the average.
    Shrek is also good in female role models, even though it’s about fairy-tale kingdoms and all (hey, the female lead ends up being an ogre ;-)
    In general, IMO older Disney films have better role models than more recent Disney films, with the possible exception of Pixar-produced films. There are a number of the more recent (last 5-10 years?) that I’d really hesitate to let my kids watch, especially when they were young.
    I still remember the newspaper article on the local preview screening of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” They writer said it was so dark and scary that almost all the kids were either wimpering or actually crying before the 1/2 way point. And that movie was supposedly meant for younger kids. sheesh.

  12. Our girls (8 and 4) really like the Little House on the Prairie series. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a story of a family with three daughters living circa 1870’s – 1880’s. The middle daughter is a strong female role model if a little tomboyish.

  13. Nick,
    My nieces loved “Labyrinth” with David Bowie. The girl in it is kind of all wrapped up in her self at the beginning and is forced to watch her baby brother and in a fit calls on the goblin king to take him away and goes on an adventure to get him back from the goblin king. Along the way she meets and befriends all sorts of people to help her. David Bowie is the goblin king and the movie has a great musical score. It’s a great movie for both kids and adults to. Also it was made by Jim Henson and uses a lot of his muppet type work he was known for.

  14. our 3-year-old daughter loves ‘crouching tiger, hidden dragon’. Just make sure you have the remote handy near the end of jade-fox’s first fight.

  15. I don’t have any movie suggestions :) and I think Mulan is a GREAT movie. It’s also great to teach kids (perhaps especially girls) not to think that their life is to mope around until their “other half” comes.
    Yet, hopefully you’ll find a place for (some) of the princess-type fare for your daughter too. Not to train her to be submissive, but every girl wants to be a little royal, and should be (especially when it really is time to marry!). The trick is to give them strong role models, not to teach them that they need somebody else to complete them, without convincing them that it isn’t OK just to be a girl, too.

  16. There are a *lot* of great suggestions here – thank you! Looks like I’ll be adding a bunch of new movies to my Netflix queue this week :)
    Nathan, Iron Giant is also one of my favorites, and my son Isaac likes it, too.
    Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is an interesting choice. I saw that a while back, but don’t recall how suitable it would be for a 3-4 year old. I’ll watch it again and find out.
    K3, Hannah does watch the usual princess fare, and even has a few Cinderella videa games – I just wanted to make sure she knows there are alternatives.
    I agree with Badman that while Princess Mononoke is a cool movie, it’s not for little kids.
    Thanks again!

  17. Mulan is my FAVORITE Disney movie. It WAS pretty popular when it came out, but now it’s just one of the group. I agree with Spirited Away – another favorite, as is Matilda. There are also a series of books (you can find them in the bookstore) based on true stories about young girl/women heroines. You can find them in the bookstores. I will find the name of them if you’re interested (drop me an email) – my daughter has two and I read one – it was REALLY good.

  18. Don’t forget The Rescuers! Unlike some of the above-mentioned, it’s aimed squarely at very young kids, and it features a couple of different strong females — Miss Bianca the mouse and Penny the orphan girl.

  19. Hi Nick
    As the father of one child, a daughter, I too felt it important that she have strong role models. For example, her dentist and doctor are women. But please do not dream that you will ever fully and truly understand any woman, including your daughter. For instance, have you noticed that virtually every romance ends with the woman snuggling into the strong arms of her hero, never the man gratefully cuddling inside the powerful embrace of the heroine? Women, not men, dictate that model, since they buy romance far more than we do. Maybe they’re just dumb – or possibly women have their own feminine ways of becoming strong. Because I really had no idea what to do with a girl, I have raised my own kid like I would a boy. But at age 18 she has somehow become a woman anyway. Thank goodness for Mother Nature.

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