a critiQal film review Mulan (1998)

Plot: Fearful that her ailing father will be drafted into the Chinese military, Mulan (Wen) takes his spot - though, as a girl living under a patriarchal regime, she is technically unqualified to serve. She cleverly impersonates a man and goes off to train with fellow recruits. Accompanied by her dragon, Mushu (Murphy), she uses her smarts to help ward off a Hun invasion, falling in love with a dashing captain along the way.

686 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 25s)

When the grandkids wanted to watch Mulan, it seemed like a good time to actually catch up a little on my reviews of Disney Animated Features. While I’ve seen them all, I hadn’t gotten around to reviewing most of them, so knocking one of them off my list seemed like a good idea.

Since it had been awhile since I’d seen Mulan, it was a good time to review this film, as it wasn’t fresh in my mind. But, would this Disney animation stand up to the greats (like Aladdin (1992)) and repeated viewings, or was this just another blah film between the great ones?

Ming-Na Wen (who isn’t exactly a household name) does a good job lending her voice to the lead character, Fa Mulan. Even though she’s clearly outclassed in the voice talent section by other, more familiar voices, she brings a convincing innocence to her voice that helps her character shine. She may be breaking all the rules, that voice seems to say, but she’s not doing it out of malice or spite, only goodness.

Eddie Murphy is clearly the star voice in Mulan. When his career started to flag (ahem…Beverly Hills Cop III (1994)…ahem), he leaped into voice characters with gusto, bring viewers such lovable characters as Donkey from Shrek (2001)…and Mushu from Mulan. Just like when he voiced Donkey, the animators seem to have let him have free reign over what his character was going to say, and he’s easily the comedy relief in this film. While his live-action roles may not be up to par lately, his voice-over animation characters have immortalized him in the eyes of new – and future – generations.

The rest of the voice cast is a mixed bunch, with a few famous names (George Takei, BD Wong, Miguel Ferrer, Pat Morita, etc.) and some not so familiar (Soon-Tek Oh, etc.). The famous names are well cast, as their characters fit in with the roles viewers are used to seeing them in (Miguel Ferrer is the villain, Pat Morita is the wise sage Emperor, etc.). Disney has, once again, done a nice job casting its voice actors, even to matching the singing voice to the right character.

The story behind Mulan is an interesting one, as there was apparently a girl who joined the army in China. That being said, Disney has once again taken it’s fair share of creative license, and while the end product may not really come close to the original story, they have once again taken a story and made it interesting for adults and children alike. Even the singing parts of this one aren’t as sappy, as adults will grin and nod along with at least one song (where the army is singing about a “girl worth fighting for”, much to Fa Mulan’s chagrin).

And what’s a Disney Animated Feature without its animation? Thankfully, Mulan, even though drawn in its own distinct style, never falters. Viewers will easily find themselves getting drawn into this animated story, and will chuckle again and again at some of the antics of the characters on-screen.

Filled with enough action and adventure to intrigue adults, children will easily get behind this new Disney princess. While she may not be all prim and proper like her predecessors Belle and the like, it’s a well-developed tough female character that manages to still maintain her feminism throughout. She may be a bit of a tomboy, but she’s still a girl, and a strong character for little girls to model themselves after.

And, thanks to her Chinese heritage, she isn’t white-washed nearly as much as most of her female co-stars in the mid 90’s, making Disney (once again) a forward-thinking company when it comes to its heroines. Keep it up Disney.

Definitely a solid film in the Disney Animated Feature collection, Mulan should be an easy pick to own for those with kids. And those without will find themselves enjoying this one too. Sure, maybe not quite as much as a Lilo & Stitch (2002) or an Aladdin (1992), but still able to stand up to repeated viewings without too much fallout.

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