Academy Award® Nominee
Disney's 36th animated film, relating the story of a young girl, named Mulan, in feudal China who goes to war against the Huns in her father's place. Concealing the fact that she's not a man, she is... View more >
Starring Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy, Miguel Ferrer... View more >
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Mulan (1998) ***1/2 out of 4
One hears and reads opinions and statistics about Walt Disney Pictures. THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989) was a watershed film, recharging the animation division. THE LION KING (1994) grossed over $300 million. The entries of the last two summers, however, disappointed both critics and Disney's money-counters.
There's no telling yet about MULAN'S box office, but for my money it's the best entry since BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991).
The legend on which the story is based is a masterful choice. It avoids familiar, sexist lore; it stresses the strengths and determination of a young heroine; it even goes out of its way to avoid the formulaic treacle typical of Disney.
Though the narrative begins with action - a herd of Huns overrunning the Great Wall - it spends the next several minutes exposing and developing characters. We meet minor figures like Mulan's grandmother, and the family dog "Little Brother," both of whom are used for comic relief. There is also a little cricket: it's no Jiminy, but it does have a mute charm akin to the dog-like carpet's in ALADDIN. But the character that casts his influence upon the rest of the film is Zhou, Mulan's father.
An aging, dignified and prayerful man, Zhou receives a conscription notice send by the Emperor. One male from each family must fight the invading hordes. Observing her father's ineffectual attempt to swing his long-closeted sword, Mulan makes the crucial decision of the film's premise. She cuts off her hair, dons her father's armor, gallops off on her black stallion, Khan. Zhou charges out of the house and falls in a rain puddle, horrified, of course, at his daughter's smashing of tradition and honor. Voiced expertly by Soon-Tek Oh, Zhou appears again only briefly, at the far end of the tale; but he proves to be a quick-forgiving father, causing many tears to spill, I am sure, from viewers' eyes.
Another laudable aspect of the film is that its characters are drawn consistently. Way back when Snow White and her Prince moved with the grace of their human models, while the dwarves cavorted like the buffoonish caricatures they were, we witnessed the gap Disney pictures' animation style. Look at Cinderella versus her step-sisters, even at Belle and her eccentric, barrel-like father. No, the plain beauty of Mulan does not contrast strongly with the supporting roles. Captain Li Shang (voice of B. D. Wong), Mulan's would-be love interest, does not differ strikingly from the other males in the story. The Huns are an exception; they are demonized through lack of development and through Neanderthal bulkiness. Miguel Ferrer, in his role of Shan-Yu, creates the most velvety and threatening male voice since Robbie Benson's Beast.
MULAN is strongest in the story of its heroine's quest. Although the film is too short to be considered picaresque in nature, we watch Mulan meet and conquer many obstacles, from training to rejection as a meddlesome female. She is certainly a dynamic character, a strong woman who does not spend her time waiting to be rescued. Instead, she conceives the rescue schemes.
I find it remarkable that MULAN can be criticized as though it were a live-action drama. I was so caught up in the exposition that, when Eddie Murphy's dragon, the strutting sidekick Mushu, appeared, I felt a disturbing change in tone. Then I remembered the audience. This was a kids' picture that adults could enjoy too. Along with Mushu, I admired the portrayal of Mulan's ancestors. George Takei does nicely as Number 1 Ancestor. He leads a cast of ghosts that tells us a great deal about Chinese tradition. A film 88 minutes long cannot do justice to such a culture; however, we spy customs, dress, art and even some musical cues that serve as a thorough short course on that time.
Watching some scenes in MULAN - specifically the ones aided by computer digitalization - I was reminded of the racing introduction of THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER and the dancing scene of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. When Shan-Yu appeared atop a snow-covered hill, the horizon high in the shot to show the immense width of the landscape, I experienced the awe induced usually by the cinematography of war epics. And when the Hun leader and his legions of mounted warriors commenced to cascade down the snow-covered mountain, I felt the slight but pleasurable vertigo evoked by carefully-placed cameras. This animation is indeed top-notch.
The music accomplishes the main task of songs that appear in musicals: their lyrics further the plot. That's all. The numbers are not bad, just unremarkable. I doubt even the Stevie Wonder song that accompanies the credits will receive much play on the radio.
In future viewings - my daughter has already asserted that we will purchase the video - I will try to spot the twisted humor of animators, jokes like "SEX" spelled out in the dust and blown leaves of THE LION KING. The silliest gag I noticed is the casting of Harvey Fierstein as a macho soldier who asks, late in the film, if his dress makes him look fat!
Because of Fu Zhou and his loving relationship with his daughter, it was all the more pleasant to catch MULAN on Father's Day weekend, its opening date. My family was thankful for a G-rated film as summer began. I understand other studios have noticed the scarcity of good family entertainment too. But with MULAN, the best of Disney is back.
This movie is far superior to Warner Brother's "Quest for Camelot" that came out earlier this summer. I rated this movie as a See Now. There is a qualification to this rating. It is only a See Now if you have children or have a general taste for animation. This movie is better than "Hercules". In fact, I would put it on a par with "The Lion King". The animation is stunning especially the scene where the Huns charge the Chinese troops. But at times the background was not as detailed as usual.
The voice characterizations are very well done. This is typical of Disney. They choose actors that simply sound like the roles they are playing. Ming - Na Wen is the voice of Mulan. The hype says she is different than the lastest lead females. This is true. The appearence of the character is more subdued. Also this is a different kind of love story. It is about the love Mulan feels for her father Fa Zhou, voice by Soon - Teck Oh, rather than a typical Disney movie such as "The Little Mermaid". I liked that. Because even good animation can become stale if every movie follows the pattern
Eddie Murphy is funny as the demoted dragon Mushu, whose attitude and style make up for his deminuative stature. I also liked the anachronisms made by Mushu similar to that of Genie in "Aladdin". Other voices include B.D. Wong as Capain Li Shang. Mulan's commanding officer. And of course no Disney animation would be complete without a villian. In this case it is Shan - Yu, the leader of the Huns. Shan - Yu is relentless, almost a force of nature. I have heard some TV critics say this character was not well developed. I disagree with that statement. But as always it is the viewer who must make their own decision.
The one area that this film was lacking was the soundtrack. None of the song in this movie grab you. Other animated films, including Fox's "Anastasia" the music really supports the film. In this movie it is largely forgettable. But on the whole this is a very good movie. Who knows maybe it will even be the next Broadway play from Disney. One can only hope.
After years of mediocrity, Disney has finally produced a movie which would aspire to greatness were it to have just a little more musical panache. "Mulan" is the best animated Disney movie to come down the pike in a long, long time, and it was well worth the wait. The title character's transformation from a fragile and somewhat accident-prone waif to an Asian Joan of Arc makes previous characters "cartoonish" by comparison. Mulan's convictions and courage raise her a cut above the usual fare that Disney has churned out tie-in marketing regularity over the past three years. You could stack up hokey Pocahontas, lumbering Quasimodo, and herky Hercules to Mulan and she would dispatch them all with "Lion King" authority. Mulan is a joy to behold from first frame to last.
Alas, the Disney folks have not yet figured out how to redial that wonderful magic number which rolled out such a memorable portfolio of musical delights as those that graced "The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin," "Beauty and the Beast," and "The Lion King." Seemingly, the studio may have rescued the effort by enlisting the prodigious talents of Jerry Goldsmith to deliver a soaring, brassy and sweeping score that made the exciting, melodramatic middle and end of the film breathlessly tense and dramatic. There is a feeling of greatness in the score and in the actions of the characters.
Of course there is the obligatory sidekick character in the form of a runt guardian dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy, basically another take on the "Genie" shtick. Thankfully, the producers of this movie had the good wisdom not to enhance the whimsical reptile too much as to wrest the spotlight away from Mulan. She gets good support from the critter and the little cricket who tallies along. It works.
Breaking a little from Disneyesque formula is the role of the villain, Shan-yu. Now this guy is as one-dimensional as an approaching thunderstorm, commanding the kind of dark menace that one would associate with Tolkien's stories. Shan-yu is no flame-topped "Hades," (the best character in "Hercules") to be sure. When he leads his horde over a snow-covered saddle-back valley in an assault against China's finest, you know there's a trouble comin.' It works!
The movie captures the highest emotions in the climax of the film and re-establishes Disney's greatness in cutting edge animation technology and entertainment. It's a movie worth studying as much for its character and plot development as its masterful execution and brilliance in design. "Mulan" is an artistic triumph if not a total one (again-- that music), and I heartily recommend it for all but the youngest of children, who may find the occasional dark and scary moments truly frightening. Bravo!
I reminded myself (an adult) that Disney is for children and this is a fairy tale of sorts. I said that to myself a lot. I did not see the humor in my observations until I was sharing my reaction to the Ancestors in a rap-boogie mode with Mooshu, the lizard-like dragon sidekick. The person to whom I said this, probably in my very somber Asian-American perspective, could not restrain her laughter. She said, "That must have been a sight." And then, I laughed, also; it was a sight! I try to understand that animations are glorified cartoons and in order to connect with children, the filter through which it must reach them and entertain is through the world they understand, our American culture. After all, I never objected to Lion King, Bambi or Mickey Mouse being "people-ized", did? No, I did not. But I do wish we could interject more reality into how "other cultures" are depicted. Despite that, I watched children around me laugh and enjoy. And in ANY culture, that has to be something to be treasured - enjoyment of children as children. So, if you have a little person wanting to see a witty miniature dragon help a young woman be a little closer to her destiny, take him or her to the big screen. You'll enjoy it in your own way, also.
I saw the movie twice last weekend. It's the first time I've seen a Disney animated feature twice in theater since "Beauty & The Beast". But the story moved so fast, you really felt you didn't have enough. The one & half hours just flew by. Overall, I'd rank it up there with B & B as the best Disney animation features ever. But B & B is a musical, whereas Mulan is a drama, which may explain someone's disappointment in Mulan's songs (later).
The strongest points of the movie are:
THE CHARACTERIZATION OF MULAN - We seldom see such a well-developed and strong female role even in live-action films, let alone cartoons. The beginning 20 minutes or so drew you to the character. Thereafter, even with a meddling dragon, this character stands firmly on center stage. She was the one, not her magical sidekicks or the hero, who solved her own problems time and time again. Although I wish they'd develop the character of Shang a bit more so there's more balance between the two, I'm not complaining because there are far too many films with underdeveloped female roles. What's up with Hollywood writers? They seem incapable of developing both female and male roles in the same film.
THE STORYLINE - Although it added a lot of spice to the original legend, it did keep the spirit of the legend intact, selflessness, father-daughter bond, honor, duty, ingenuity.... The father-daughter relationship was handled superbly. It's touching without being overtly sentimental. Actually, all the emotion-charged scenes were done with sublty and sophisication that was seldom seen in cartoons, a medium that's famous for exagerated movement and expression. That made the emotion much more real and heartfelt to adult audiences. There are also many intense sequences that can rival any live-action films. This is not an animated fairy tale. This is an animated war epic.
THE ANIMATION - The animation of the battle scene and the avalanche scene is simply stunning. And all the background, especially the Chinese landscape in the departure of General Li or in the marching scene, seems straight out of Chinese landscape painting. (NY Times reviewer, who apparently doesn't know much about Chinese painting, complained there were too many white spaces in the background. She needs to check out Chinese art in the Metropolitan Museum more.) All the main characters were expertedly drawn. I like the fact that Mulan wasn't made into a buxom babe, but she's too delicate looking. She's a Northerner, as Chinese would call. She should be a bit taller and stronger.
Some critics complained about the talking dragon (Eddie Murphy). Personally, I was fully prepared to hate it. But I found I don't object to it after seeing the film. Before its appearance, the film is all emotional drama. It's strong and heavy. I had tears in my eyes just 20 minutes into the film. A bit comic relief probably is needed for kids. The good thing about Murphy's character is that it doesn't interfer with the main storyline like the genie did in Aladdin. It blended well. And Mulan was the one firmly in charge during all important moments. Mushu was a sidekick. It doesn't even have any magical power. But couldn't they find a Chinese dragon, instead of a dragon who speaks Ebonic?
That takes us to the music. I think the score was excillent and I really like the songs after seeing the movie. The songs were actually narratives of the story. They are NOT stand along musical productions like "Under The Sea" or "Be Our Guest". Especially the "I'll Make a Man Out of You" segment was superbly done. The visual and the lyrics come together seamlessly. It moved the story along. It's more like the song "Belle" in the B & B. All other songs did the same, moving the story along.
My complaints about the film:
HISTORICAL INACCURACIES -
The timeline references are all over the place. Disney seems to set it in Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD), which may explain the invading Huns (Hsiung Nus in Chinese history). Hsiung Nus, due to infightings and Han's military campaigns, either moved west or assimiliated into China. It's no longer a threat to China's border after Han Dynasty. I checked Chinese history in an attemp to place Shan Yu, the Hun leader in the movie. I finally realize that it should be Chang Yu (as in Mandarin). It's not a name, but the title of Hsiung Nus' leader. Most historians placed Mulan in a much later time, Northern Wei during South - North Dynasties (AD 396 -581), or even Tang Dynasty (AD 618 - 906). I think Northern Wei is more credible because in the poem of Mulan, which immortalized the legend, the ruler was called "khan" instead of "emperor". That indicates the ruler might not be a Han Chinese. Another thing is Mulan's surname, if it's indeed Hua (in Mandarin) or Fa (in Cantonese) as most said was, could mean Mulan's family probably wasn't Han origin either. Of course. Northern Wei would have fitted this scenerio the best since it's formed by a non-Han family and there were a large population of non-Hans lived and later were completely assimilated into Han Chinese.
In the movie, the emperor was said to "build the Wall". That would make him the first emperor of Qing (246 - 210 BC), who's the most notorious tyrant in Chinese history. All the women's costumes in the movie were straight out of Tang Dynasty. The art director explained that they found Tang's style more visually interesting (which I agree). Does that mean they could dress midieval women in MaryAntonette's costumes too? Hey, how much difference can 400, 500 years make anyway? Then the emperor's costume was Han Dynasty, and the drummers' costumes were Tang. And the palace looks exactly the same as the Forbidden City in Beijing. Beijing didn't become China's capital until Yuan/Mongolian Dynasty (AD 1277 - 1368). The Forbidden City wasn't built until then. Han and Tang's capital was in Chang-an (today's Xi-an). Northern Wei's capital was in Luo Yang. The palaces of those Dynasties are no longer standing, but I highly doubt it would look like Beijing's Forbidden City. For one thing, the Forbidden City is much higher and grander than older palaces.
In my opinion, Disney would have a much easier time if it just set the time in Tang. They could standardize the costumes and draw the palace by visiting Xi-an and Japan's Kyoto, which was built according to Tang's capital. And they would have an easier time getting away with the cannon too. I don't have sufficient books on hand to check when China used cannon in wars, but Han would be a big stretch.
Disney also overplayed the women-were-second-class-citizen bit. Chinese women were not as restricted in Mulan's time as later Dynasties such as Ming and Chin. There was also no such "death to any woman impersonating a soldier" law. They wouldn't create such a law in anticipation of an act that was unprecidented. If there's any martial law forbidding women in the army, it's mainly dealing with a different kind of women. :-)
GEORGRAPHICAL INACCURACIES ("Honey, I shrunk China!") -
When the troop marched toward the border, it passed several women working in rice fields. Disney, take note: There are NO rice fields in Northern China. It's like placing cotton fields on Canadian border. In China, Northerners grow wheat, not rice. The first scene Mulan appeared, she's eating rice. That's not right either. In northern China, people eat noodles, dumplings, or pan cakes made of wheat, not rice.
Commoners were never allowed into the Forbidden City during the imperial China, period. That square inside the Forbidden City (everthing with the sorounding walls belong to the Forbidden City) was never used as a public square. It's meant only for official gathering such as when regional officials went to pay respect to the emperor. During celebration, the emperor might get up to the gate to the palace to observe the festivity outside. But he would not let commoners into his palace for security reason. Also for security reason, he would either receive the victorious troop outside of the capital or receive the commanding officers alone inside his palace and let the troop station outside of the capital. Letting the whole troop into his palace is risking coup detat. Plus, the palace should have thousands of imperial guards patrolling. Abducting the emperor by an outsider was almost impossible.
And Mulan's garden at home looks more like a Southern garden, those exist in Yangtzi River area where water is plenty. Plus, pandas don't live anywhere outside of Szechuan province, a place Mulan would never be. But I guess Disney couldn't make an animated feature set in China without drawing a panda.
PHILOSOPHICAL INACCURACY - "Be your true self" is a very western, contemporary notion. It's something a writer lives in the '90s would say after reading how repressed women were in history. It's not something those women would think at the time. Sense of self is formed by upbringing and environment. People behave according to what the society requires them. They would not feel somehow that's a "faulse self" and there's another "true self" within. That's why I don't find "Reflection's" lyrics that plausible. I don't like Stevie Wonder's "True to Your Heart" at the end at all. I think not only the notion isn't appausible, the song broke the emotion spell the film held on the audiences at that time.
AESTHETICAL INACCURACIES -
I almost laughed out loud when women applied purple eye-shadows to Mulan's eyes in the primping scene. Sorry, that's Western makeup. Chinese never felt anything wrong with flat eyes so they wouldn't apply dark eye shadows to make eyes look sunken. Sunken eyes were regarded as haggard and sickly.
Folded fan made several appearances in the film. The animators don't seem to know folded fan was men's accessory in acient China. Women's fans were made of white silk and shape like moon or pear. They couldn't be folded. Folded fan was made into women's accessory when they got to Korea and Japan.
Mulan was a lefty in the openning scene when she wrote on her right arm, but she became right-handed when she used bow and sword.
The Chinese army seems shrinking for no reason. The size shrunk considerably from the training camp to the snowy battlefield to the palace fight. I wish Disney had spared a bit cost on the crowd scene and used it on the army.
I applaude Disney's efforts on getting a lot of Chinese customs and culture right. But I wish they made a bit more efforts. Maybe you want to ask why I nitpicked details in a cartoon. The easy answer is that I don't look at it as a "kid's cartoon". Disney is aiming high and I evaluate it accordingly.
GOD, that cavalry charge!! Are they allowed to give Cinematography oscars to animated pieces? MULAN is simply the best visual work I've seen in AGES -- plus, it also has a solid story fit for adults. Missing it on the big screen might well be missing a 1999 "Best Picture" nominee -- don't take that chance! ;)
There are, I think, two ways to look at this type of film:
1) As an intelligent adult, I am somewhat repulsed by the repetitive, predictable plot, modernization and general one-dimensionality of characters and historical inaccuracies of this movie...
2) but let's get real here: This is a kiddie flick.
When I was a child, I certainly would have loved to see a movie like this and, watching the delighted faces around me, I know children today loved this movie as well. The fact that the standard bad guy ran around sniffing things like a hound dog and that he was colored in dark shades were somewhat heavy-handed ways of letting us know he was the bad guy. But with kids, being obvious to you only means being understandable to them. Other aspects of the film that bothered me, such as the sacrifice of historical accuracy for the pro-female message, wouldn't be big issues with most kids.
To sum it up, in words that are under eight letters each: When I saw this film, it just made me want to see a PBS special on the real Mulan so I could know what I've been missing.
When I saw something that could keep 60+ kids dead silent for much of the film and leave them happy at the end, to boot, I was also happy.
Just wanted to say, I was very impressed. I think this movie ranks up there with "Little Mermaid" and "Aladin."Going to the movie I did not know about Eddie Murphy's Role; a pleasent surprise. This is no doubt his best movie, even though "Dr. Doo Little" is on pace to make more money. Disney has produced some questionable movies like "Hunckback of Notre Dame" and that awful "Pocahontus" story. "Mulan" is emotionally charged like "Lion King" and a more amicable antihero than Simba.
'Mulan' is Disney's 36th animated feature. It was not as good as 1997's 'Hercules', but was still a very entertaining movie. When I first saw a preview for 'Mulan', I knew it wasn't going to be as good as 'Hercules', and I didn't want to see it. But after I read that Eddie Murphy does the voice for the dragon, I wanted to see it. And when I did, I liked it. It made me laugh a little. You should see it on the big screen, because of one scene that will not have the same effect on the small screen as it does on the big screen,
Stars out of four: ***1/2
One of the best and funniest Disney movies of all time. Go see it!(Two big thumbs up)
Just when you think Disney is due for a letdown, a predictably trite waste of time, they go and wow you yet again. There was no reason for Mulan to have been good (much less great). But today Disney thankfully cares too much to put out garbage, and so here’s another four star "cartoon" for the second consecutive summer. Mulan is an engaging movie which will appeal to adults perhaps even more than children. I loved the songs and the animation, especially the large crowd shots, is phenomenal.
10-point scale rating: 9
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