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April 1, 2020

Mulan (1998) --- “This Time, The Princess Saves The Prince.”


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Hello, Movie Buffs!
     Directed by Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook (Walking with Dinosaurs 3D), and written by Robert D. San Souci, Mulan (1998) is Disney’s 36th animated film - the 9th in its Disney Renaissance period - and based on the Chinese legend of female warrior Hua Mulan. Set during China’s Han dynasty, Fa Mulan (Ming-Na Wen), the daughter of aged and ailing warrior Fa Zhou (Soon-Tek Oh), takes her father’s place during the general conscription. Despite living under a patriarchal regime, she cleverly disguises herself as a man and goes off to train with fellow recruits. Accompanied by her ancestral dragon, Mushu (Eddie Murphy), she uses her smarts to help ward off a Hun invasion, falls in love with a dashing captain (BD Wong), and proves that she’s as capable a fighter as any man.
     Mulan was the start of a new direction for Disney’s animation studio because it combined the traditional elements of a brave heroine and an animal sidekick with material that appears to be far more mature and adventurous. It’s one of those “kids films” adults can enjoy without feeling an obligation to take a kid along. Rather than being a reanimation of a Grimms Brothers or Hans Christian-Anderson tale, the story is based on a Chinese legend about a female warrior known as Hua Mulan. The writers are reverent in their depiction of Mulan as a female warrior, specifically in the sense that the story presents the male characters as buffoons - with the exception of the Emperor (Pat Morita), Mulan’s father, and Captain Shang (B.D. Wong). Mulan not only defies convention but also the desires of society - her peers and family - that she heed to the advice of the local matchmaker and marry whoever is arranged for her. The film’s message is clearly a stage for feminist empowerment but it also shows how inevitably Mulan's heart skips a beat when she starts getting close with Captain Shang. While Mulan breaks from tradition in which the damsel is saved by the knight in shining armor, it is also still adamant about the heroine finding romance and living happily ever after. It’s a timeless story about doing what’s right, following your heart, and being open to finding love.
     In their first-time feature film, filmmakers Cook and Bancroft do an excellent job of utilizing the film’s visual style to break away from the modern Disney animation seen in previous films by utilizing Chinese and Japanese style artwork, specifically, that seen is Asian style anime. This goes to show that Disney was aware that they needed to utilize new and experimental styles if it ever planned on improving its work with each new animated film. The animators and film editors work hard to create computer-enhanced battle scenes with sweeping camera movements to entrap the audience’s attention and intimate moments to bring them into the story. In addition to the visuals, the music by Jerry Goldsmith (Star Trek series, Rambo: Last Blood) and Matthew Wilder (Mulan) is memorable and more action-packed than some of Disney’s other work. Of the many songs, several of them stand out as unforgettable such as Reflection (sung by Lea Salonga), I'll Make A Man Out Of You (sung by Donny Osmond), and A Girl Worth Fighting For (by most of the cast.)
     The voice acting is solid throughout, in fact in terms of characters, Mulan has more in common with male Disney leads than female leads. Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) is a thinker, she’s resourceful like Aladdin, quick to act like Prince Eric, and willing to sacrifice herself for the sake of others like Hercules. In addition, she speaks her mind and doesn’t waste her time pinning after a guy, she is very much a woman ahead of her time. She disguises herself as a man and takes her father’s place in the army, not because she wants to see what it's like for a change but because she loves him and values his life above hers. And even though she later doubts herself and her reasons, along the way she found her inner strength, which some Disney Princess before her lacked, and its this strength, this inner beauty, that helps her get the guy at the end.
     In terms of the villain, Shan Yu (Miguel Ferrer) is simple but effective. And while he is not as memorable as Jafar, Ursula, Maleficent, and the Evil Queen, he is more menacing because of his simplicity and by that I mean he doesn’t have any magical powers or secret weapon, all he’s got is an army of Hun soldiers that leave a path of destruction in their wake - no prisoners, no mercy. He’s more human and more relatable to real-life villains from history like Hitler or Bin Laden. Of course, he doesn’t have much depth to his character but there is enough of him to be effective and perfect for the story.
     As for the rest of the supporting cast, they did well in adding to the story. The Emperor’s consultant Chi-Fu (James Hong) reminds us how many men looked at women in this culture during this time. He provided an added element of contrast that was needed for the story and that couldn’t only come from the film’s main villain. In contrast, Mulan’s fellow comrades, Ling (Gedde Watanabe), Yao (Harvey Fierstein), and Chien Po (Jerry Tondo) acted as the film’s comic relief and proved that they trust and are loyal to Mulan despite having been lied to about her identity beforehand. And last but not least, Eddie Murphy is hilarious as the voice of Mushu, a small skinny dragon with more fire than a grown dragon. He provides his own level of comic relief and delivers some unforgettable lines that are reminiscent of  Robin Williams as the Genie. And as Mulan’s sidekick, he is one of my favorites aside from Aladdin.
     Overall, Mulan (1998) is a wonderful and entertaining family film that is definitely a must-see. The animation has improved and the story offers a new kind of heroine to a world that has been dominated by your standard damsel-in-distress Disney Princesses. The songs are classic, the action is incredible, and the voice performances are unforgettable. This is a story about breaking from tradition for the sake of love and teaches us to find the inner strength inside of ourselves.

Final Vote --- 7.8 of 10 stars

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Movies Similar
Aladdin (1992)
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Emperor's New Groove (2000)
Hercules (1997)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
The Little Mermaid (1989)
Lilo & Stich (2002)
Mulan (2020)
Pocahontas (1995)
Tarzan (1999)

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