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Mulan

Mulan

What She said:

She

There’s something endearingly simple, and yet wonderfully powerful about Disney classic animation.  Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that some of my most formative years were during the hey-day of Disney animated musical greatness—The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King.  And even as the reign of Disney 2-D seemed to fizzle out in favor of CGI pictures, there were still a few very good hand-drawn animated movies.  Mulan was one of those.

Mulan tells the story of a young Chinese girl who is a bit of a misfit.  She’s adorable, and yet she just cannot seem to do anything right.  After offending the town matchmaker, it’s clear that her hopes for an advantageous marriage have been dashed.  In the meantime, the town hears that the Huns have invaded China and all families must send a male into service for the war.  Mulan’s family only has one male, her father, who suffered a war injury in the past and now gets around with a distinct limp.  Basically, he doesn’t stand a chance if he goes to war.  Mulan, feeling that she needs to prove herself to her family, and wanting to ensure her father’s safety, disguises herself as a man and sneaks off to take her father’s place on the frontlines.  Will she be found out, can she survive battle, how many catchy tunes will we, the viewers, be privileged to?  There are some big questions at play.

This film came out in 1998, right toward the end of the 2-D hand-drawn animation era.  You can tell that the filmmakers were trying to do something a little different with this flick—as the drawing style is a bit different from what we were previously used to, and it’s a style that carried through to Tarzan and The Emperor’s New Groove.  But the story here is pretty classic and formulaic.  It’s about bravery, confidence, pushing boundaries, and heart.  Mulan has all of these things, even if she is putting her family at a great risk by sneaking off and posing as a man.  The movie also handles some darker themes, such as war and death.  This was nothing new for Disney, as they broached the subject of death so memorably with The Lion King.  But in Mulan it’s not quite so gussied up.  The colors are darker, characters look even more evil, and the musical score relays peril.  However, in classic Disney fashion we know that things are going to end up all right, and there will be a little romance to boot.  The songs in Mulan are pretty well done and will stick with you for a while afterwards.  I admit to doing my best rendition of Reflection in the shower the night I watched this.

Mulan carried the tradition of Disney animated musical greatness forward during a time when interest was beginning to wane.  It’s a respectable movie with a solid plot, crisp animation, and a nice musical score.

Thumbs up.

What he said:

He

I have never seen this movie. Not a once have I ever come across even a minute of it. I knew it was about a Chinese girl that get involves in a war that Eddie Murphy plays one of the sidekicks, but aside from that I was going in with a clean slate.

The evil Huns – led by Shan Yu – plan on invading conquering the rest of China. The Emperor (voice by the late Pat Morita) has recently built The Great Wall of China and Shan Yu (Miguel Ferrer) sees this as a challenge. He plans to use this opportunity to assert his dominance and expand his power. As a result of this, The Emperor is forced to draft one man from each family to build an army to defend his land.

Meanwhile in a small village away from all of this, a young girl named Mulan (Ming-Na) is trying to fine her way in life. This involves going to some sort of finishing school and learning to how to act like a lady so she can score herself a man. She’s a little clumsy, a bit of a dreamer, but a good kid. That whole plan doesn’t quite work out and there you have your heroine who seems lost and without purpose.  Oh, but she isn’t.

Mulan

When the village gets word of the looming war, her father is recruited to join the military. The only problem is that he’s handicapped from having previously served. He is a war hero, but has paid the price with his body. This is where Mulan steps in. When nobody is paying attention, she sneaks off to the army’s camp and poses the son her father never had.  

Before she gets there, she is joined by disgraced spirit guide Mushu (Eddie Murphy) and family good luck charm Cri-Kee (a cricket). Mushu is a little dragon who held a honor of serving as Mulan’s family’s spirit guide. Long ago, he failed his mission and one of her family died as a result. The ancient family spirits agree to give him one more chance to try and earn back his spot. Cri-Kee (Frank Welker) is a fiery little cricket given to Mulan by her grandmother. He’s supposed to bring good luck.
When she makes it to camp she meets a group of misfit soldiers and Li Shang, captain of the army. Li Shang (B.D. Wong) is the son of the general and some question his ability to lead. He is eager to prove he was given his position based on merit and not because of his father.

Everything that needed to happen in order for this movie to succeed did. Ming-Na provided just the right amount of uncertainty and confidence a budding heroine needs. B.D. Wong was equally good as her love interest and captain. The actors voicing all of the sidekick/comedic relief characters tried a little hard at times, but were generally amusing. Miguel Ferrer (of Robocop fame) was excellent as the Hun leader Shan Yu. The character was drawn to look absolutely menacing – and he did – but Ferrer’s voice work really is the cherry on top. This is one of the more physically imposing villains I have ever seen in a Disney movie. Some of the scenes he was involved in were terrifying for a Disney movie.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on August 2, 2012.