**** (out of 4)
At first glance, Nora Twomey’s The Breadwinner – the latest release from Ireland’s underappreciated Cartoon Saloon – might just look like a secondhand version of Disney’s Mulan. Like Mulan, Breadwinner’s protagonist, an Afghan named Parvana (Saara Chaudry), is a young, strong-willed woman who doesn’t hide her distaste for traditional gender mores. Like Mulan, moreover, Parvana lives with a family that happens to be short on able-bodied men: her father (Ali Badshah) is crippled, and her younger brother is still an infant. And just as extraordinary circumstances forced Mulan to cross-dress, Parvana decides to disguise herself as a boy after her father is suddenly, inexplicably arrested. Thanks to the Taliban, women in Parvana’s community can’t leave their homes without being whipped and beaten; for Parvana, becoming a guy is the only way she has even the slightest chance at keeping her family alive and whole.
These many apparent similarities, however, eventually make the differences between Mulan and The Breadwinner all the more meaningful.