I realize a lot of people out there don’t go see “cartoons” thinking they’re for kids, but anyone reading this who still thinks that in the New Disney Renaissance has obviously not been keeping up. (Side note: All those Bugs Bunny cartoons are for adults too) After The Lion King, Disney pumped out the embarrassingly vapid and honkified Pocahontas, and then the unfairly lambasted Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules gave all the appearances that Disney was losing its touch. Without going into a diatribe about the virtues of Hercules and Hunchback (see old reviews), I want to say to you now – Mulan is really excellent.
My only gripe is the obnoxious perma-bend to commercialism that Disney feels it needs in order to keep its world-famous animation department going – the hideous pop-radio-ready song. Mulan’s greatest crime is attempting – at the VERY end – to insert this into an otherwise beautiful, elegant classic. It’s only a couple of minutes, though, and by then Mulan has won you over.
Ming-Na Wen (of ER and The Single Guy, oh and the Joy Luck Club) voices Mulan, a legendary Chinese character who saves China to defend her family’s honor. In this era of Riot Grrrls and Girl Power, she’s timely, but she also still believably exists in the strict patriarchal society of ancient China. She doesn’t do her own singing, but Lea Salonga vocally matches her nicely. The vocal cast is kind of bizarre – B.D. Wong and Harvey Fierstein and Eddie Murphy, Miguel Ferrer (as chilling Shan-Yu, leader of the Huns), Pat Morita, and George Takei, among others. B.D. Wong’s singing is taken care of by Donny Osmond. Yes, that Donny Osmond. But he’s not a little bit country or a little bit rock and roll – he sounds great – all that Technicolor Dreamcoat stuff, you know.
The songs are by Matthew “Breaka My Stride” Wilder, (who sings Ling) and score by Jerry Goldsmith, and it’s nice, pleasant, exciting when it needs to be, but not remarkable. Alan Menken is still the reigning king of toe-tapping Disney musicals. I was pleased that there was a minimum of precious sidekick character comedy relief moments – most of the comedy is handled by the human characters. Mushu the little dragon guardian (Eddie Murphy), whose exaggerated ethnicity is jarringly out of place in Hun-plagued China, but he is not as abrasive as one would expect.
The biggest joy of Mulan is the animation. A picky anime fan friend of mine appreciated the smoothness and the flow, which I deemed a great compliment coming from a Disney detractor. I loved the graceful lines, the amazing vistas and the judicious use of airbrushing. The computer generated stuff is obvious just in that there is no way it was done by hand, but it blends elegantly. Elegant is the word I would use for the whole movie – woo, and I did a few paragraphs ago – how sloppy of me! You may have seen a shot from the preview where her face is reflected in a sword and the sword is moving – you can see tiny details like a reflection dancing over moving metal, wispy cherry blossoms and cloud-covered mountains – oooh it’s very pretty! The last 3rd of the movie is all huge Ben-Hur scale visuals – wow!!!
It’s sweeping and epic and entertaining and it’s actually a full 90 minutes, packed with plot and action. Sheng, the captain of her soldiers, is WOOF hunky while Mulan is slim, androgynous, but never unfeminine inside.
MPAA Rating G
Release date 6/29/98
Time in minutes 87
Director Tony Bancroft, Barry Cook
Studio Walt Disney