Mulan (1998)

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Ben
I had never seen this film before watching it for the blog. Mulan was one of Sally’s DVDs she added to the collection.

This animated Disney film is the story of Mulan (Ming-Na Wen). When war breaks out in China and conscription becomes a thing, rather than have her elderly father (Soon-Tek Oh) go off to war, Mulan decides to impersonate a man and go to fight in his place. While she is away, Mulan’s ancestors send a loudmouth dragon named Mushu (Eddie Murphy) to watch over and protect her in battle. Mulan must learn to act like a man, as she will likely face dire punishment if her ruse is discovered. With the help of Mushu, Mulan must sidestep the politics of battle and help her army win a war.

The biggest thing I noticed about this film is the quality of the animation. Mulan was one of the first films to be produced in a newly developed studio in Orlando. Most other Disney animated films had been made at the original animation studio in Burbank, California. There is a distinct difference in picture quality. The earlier films definitely have a better picture quality about them, particularly films like Aladdin and The Lion King. I guess I am somewhat spoilt as the animation quality is normally so good. Seeing a less than stellar animation presentation really does detract from the film for me.

One of the things I like about this film is the strong female character. In the past, most Disney princesses have been damsels in distress, rarely getting involved in the action themselves. Mulan is one of the first Disney female characters that I can remember that kicks her fair share of ass throughout the film and holds her own against her male counterparts. I also like the voice work of Ming-Na Wen who has gone onto be a live action ass kicker in the very underrated Agents of SHIELD television show.

When I think about this movie, I am constantly finding myself reminded of the dorky teen flick She’s the Man. Keep in mind that I did see that film first, and Mulan did feel like it was ripping off the Amanda Bynes comedy. I’m just kidding, I don’t really think Mulan ripped off anything. I just wanted to point out the similarities between the two films.

Rating: C


Sally
After several years of being separated from my Disney DVD collection, I’m beyond giddy that it’s finally in Australia. The prospect of reviewing them all also makes me happy, mostly because I have a built-in excuse to make Ben watch the movies that I grew up with. First up (skipping any that fall previously in the alphabet– we’ll get to them later) is Mulan, one of the final films in the Disney Renaissance.

Mulan was released in 1998, just before I entered high school. While I liked it then, it was never one of my favorites. Its release roughly coincided with my family’s cross country move, where I started at a new school three weeks into my freshman year. Discussing the latest Disney flick didn’t seem like the best way to make new friends, so I downplayed my animation obsession at school and at home.

In hindsight, this movie might have resonated with 14-year-old me if I’d given it more of chance. Mulan is constantly questioning who she is and how she fits into the wider world. This often puts her at odds with her family, who remain the people she is able to rely on the most despite challenging circumstances. I was basically going through a similar stage in my life, just with fewer Huns and far more pop quizzes.

Mulan is a great Disney film, but it doesn’t live up to the movies made earlier in this period. The music doesn’t have the same impact as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, or The Lion King. The animation isn’t as breathtaking as those movies either, though I do love the Chinese-inspired line work and stylization.

What Mulan has going for it is its voice cast. Ming-Na Wen brings life to the feisty titular heroine, with comedic back up from Eddie Murphy as her dragon sidekick. The supporting cast also includes many of my favorite character actors– B.D. Wong, Harvey Fierstein, James Hong, George Takei, and Gedde Wantanabe.

Mulan is rightfully part of the Disney Renaissance period, but doesn’t live up to the incredibly high standards set by most of its predecessors. Despite this, it is still a good movie, presenting audiences with a “princess” who doesn’t fit the conventional mould.

Rating: B

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