The next recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my screening of The Lion King is this exceptional tale from Disney that brought a story little known to the North American world.
This Disney version of an ancient Chinese folktale tells the story of a young woman, Mulan (Ming-Na Wen with songs performed by Lea Salonga), who, to save her father’s life, joins the army in his stead, disguising herself as a man, and becoming one of China’s greatest heroes along the way.
Now let’s get this out of the way first, Eddie Murphy should not have been Mushu the dragon – this was trying to replicate Robin Williams’ Genie in Aladdin. Beyond that, however, I like most of the film, and the voice cast is pretty incredible, including James Hong, Harvey Fierstein, Pat Morita, Soon-Tek Oh, Miguel Ferrer, and George Takei.
The Chinese prepare for a battle with the Huns as they surmount the Wall and threaten the entire nation of China.
Mulan, like Belle before her, is strong, well-realised and is a nice addition to the reinvigorated Disney line brought on by the renaissance caused by The Little Mermaid.
I don’t think the score or songs by Doug Besterman stand up to Ashman and Menken’s work, but the representation of Chinese culture on the screen is done incredibly well.
Things I do like are that both Mulan and Mushu stand against traditional beliefs and values – proving themselves against ingrained cultural rules, showing that heroes are outside the norm.
When her secret is discovered she’s ostracised by her fighting unit, leaving the Huns able to lead an assault on the Emperor (Morita), endangering her entire nation.
Will her comrades let go of their sexist prejudices to unit and fight at Mulan’s side, and save her country?
Mulan is a well-crafted tale, the Jerry Goldsmith score is nice, and the voice-actors are on point but the songs don’t work, and Eddie Murphy is out of place. I liked that it wasn’t afraid to look at the violence of war, and the ridiculous sexist behaviour of some men, that still runs rampant today,
I also quite liked the animation style, it was a nice combination of Disney and Chinese culture. The film pays a very nice homage to the original folk tale while Disney-fying it, and it actually has weathered the years rather well.
It may not be my favourite film of the Disney Renaissance, but it is definitely a solid piece of entertainment and was the first Disney film to deal with warfare and give us an Asian hero.
And while there are things in the film that don’t work, there is enough in it to keep the audience interested and invested.
In all honesty, this was the first time I sat through the entire film. I never saw this one in theatres, and would ignore it constantly when it was put on in the video store when I worked there.
Now, having waited to see it, I enjoyed it, and my love for Disney films continues.