If Your Kids See Only One Disney Movie, Make Sure It’s This One

By Sean Thiessen | Updated


Oof, this is a tough one. Disney may represent corporate greed and creative homogenization to some, but no one can deny the impact of the studio’s animated classics. Picking one Disney movie as the most vital is tricky, but in this writer’s opinion, the most important Disney movie for kids to see is Mulan (1998).

I can feel the rage and judgment of readers across the world before I even finish writing. What about The Lion King? What about old school Disney like Bambi and 101 Dalmatians? Did you even consider Pixar?

I know, I know. I love those movies, too. But hear me out.

Mulan is a Disney movie that excels in three key functions: it is a morality tale, an entry point to cross-cultural empathy, and a quality piece of entertainment. Let’s break it down.

Disney Feminism at its Finest

Female empowerment is en vogue in Hollywood. That’s great, except studio movies often equate female empowerment with female perfection. What results is something that lacks humanity.

Many people look up to Rey in Star Wars, Captain Marvel, and even the live-action Mulan, and I am not here to take that away from anyone. However, those female characters deviate from the protagonist of the animated Mulan in one important way: they do not struggle.


Mulan ‘98 is a Disney movie full of struggle. Mulan’s choice to take her father’s place in the military is a heartbreaking one. Not only must she leave her family, but in her attempt to save her father, she risks her family’s honor.

Once she arrives in the army, Mulan struggles to keep up with the men. She constantly skates on the edge of revealing her identity as a woman, maintaining tension the entire time she is under her male guise. All the way to the end of this riveting Disney movie, Mulan fights an uphill battle to be heard by the men in power.

Through it all, Mulan rises up to inspire those around her. She begins the story rejecting her culture’s expectations of women and goes on a journey to find that being a woman gives her strength she never thought possible. Contrast this journey with a modern Disney movie. 

In the live-action Mulan, the character wins every fight and does so without any blood, sweat, or tears. For her and characters like Rey and Captain Marvel, failures have no lasting consequences. They kick butt from start to finish, which can be cool, but it minimizes growth.

Mulan ‘98 is special in that it tells a story of a woman becoming strong through perseverance rather than one who wins incessantly. The result is a more human character that acknowledges how tough life can be but shows kids that the struggle is where real strength is born.

Seeing this play out in a woman’s story is important for young people of all genders to learn to believe in themselves and empathize with others.

Mulan is a Human Story

A Disney movie in which the main characters are anthropomorphized animals is brilliant because it strips away superficial human characteristics to focus the story on the theme at play. Mulan is important for the opposite reason.


This Disney movie has human characters and is set in China, offering an opportunity for Western viewers to connect and empathize with people and a story of another culture. That is not to say that Mulan is authentically Chinese – we all know this is an Americanized take on the ancient tale.

Still, Mulan implies a larger world. It is an important empathic leap for young people to take that prepares their hearts and minds to continue embracing people and stories from cultures beyond their own.

The generality of a Disney movie about animals is brilliant in its own right, but the specificity of Mulan makes it especially important for young viewers.

Mulan is FUN

If you have ever been around little kids, you know that when they latch onto something, they really latch on. That means when they watch a movie they love, you’ll probably be seeing a lot more of that movie. When it comes to repeat viewing, you could do a lot worse than Mulan.


This film has some of the catchiest and most iconic songs of any Disney film. If you’ve never belted “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” you’re lying. 

Mulan also has some of the funniest and most charming side characters of any Disney movie thanks to Eddie Murphy’s joke-cracking dragon Mushu, Cri-Kee the lovable cricket, Mulan’s Grandmother Fa, and the zany military cohort Mulan befriends along her journey.

There is a compelling love story, a political threat, and a menacing villain, all wrapped in a story of honor and identity that taps into truth that transcends culture, gender, and even age.

Every family will have its own Disney movie that dominates the household for one reason or another, but Mulan ought to be an essential part of the rotation for its story of empowerment, empathy, and entertainment.