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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Disneyear: Mulan (1998)

In a time when Disney started losing it's appeal, Mulan appeared and turned out a modest success. It made more money worldwide than Hunchback and Hercules combined and the general consensus seemed to like it okay. Today, that seems to be the general response: people seem to like it okay. They like the girl-power aspect, they like Eddie Murphy as Mushu (wasn't that fitting casting?), they like that one badass song I can never escape from on the Internet, the culture, all that good stuff. Despite it's modest following does it still hold up? Let's join this man's army to see.

In ancient China, around the Han Dynasty, the Huns invade China by climbing across the great wall and so the emperor (Pat Morita) calls for every male in every house to serve in the army to hold back the enemy. So when the news reaches the Fa family, only the father can serve. This upsets our heroine Mulan (Ming-Na) and tries to talk him out of it because she doesn't want him to be killed in combat. So she disguises herself as a boy and sets off for the army with her father's armor and sword. This gets the attention of her ancestors called by her grandmother's (June Foray) prayers. The first ancestor (George Takei) orders a demoted guardian dragon named Mushu (Eddie Murphy) to awaken a dragon spirit but accidentally destroys his statue. So he decides if she can help make Mulan a war hero, then he'll become a guardian again and gets help from a "lucky" cricket. So Mulan tries to blend in with the army with Mushu's help. She fails miserably at first but overtime working with her new friends (Harvey Fierstein, Gedde Watanabe, and Jerry Tondo) and Captian Shang (BD Wong) and using her head over brawn, she becomes arguably the best damned soldier in this man's army, never letting on her secret. That is until she defeats the Huns by causing an avalanche with a cannon and unintentionally reveals to Shang that she isn't a dude at all. She's left for dead in the mountains but finds out that the Huns are still alive and head over to the palace to take over. After trying to tell Shang and the others that the Huns are coming, they realize she was right and help her beat the bad guys. She does, is declared a hero all across China, and Mushu is now an official guardian again!

Let's start with the character of Mulan. She's our typical strong female lead that fights her own battles, defies gender issues and all that good stuff. What sets her apart, for me at least, is that she's not just doing it for herself. After a meeting with a matchmaker goes horribly awry, Mulan is left ashamed and distraught. She wishes so badly to please and bring honor to her family, yet her spunky, outspoken attitude makes this a struggle for her in a culture where women are expected to be quiet and subservient. So after her father gets drafted, she takes his place to save his life. So the whole journey was finding an identity for herself that everyone can accept despite the time period she lives in, which is pretty deep as far as heroines go. Not the strongest out there, but she's in my top 5. Plus, she kicks ass!

Eddie Murphy had some really funny lines, but that choice of casting can be a little distracting for some folks, depending on your tastes. In Shrek, it makes sense because that's just the world they lived in. In a Chinese legend? I dunno... Perhaps. But he still has good moments. But it's when Mulan joins the army is where it really gets funny. I just love it when Mulan tries to fit in with all these guys, like the hothead, the pacifist, and the kind-of show off. The timing, expressions, reactions, they're just perfect. I also like this sense of camaraderie that they share as the film progresses. That's where the heart of the film is. There's also some subtlety with some of the gender issues. Like have you ever noticed that when Ling tries to shake Mulan's hand, she holds it out like she's expecting him to kiss it? That's really clever and they never went too far with it. Oh and there's James Hong as the royal adviser. This guy's surprisingly funny and has some good moments.

Now for the bad stuff. The villain in this film is easily forgettable. I mean he's a fearsome warrior with an intimidating design and motives, but I don't remember any line of dialogue from him. That's likely because the film doesn't take the time to develop him as a character, Again, actions are one thing. Personality is another. 

But what's with the eyes?
The portrayal of the culture also seems a little underplayed. Aside from some neat designs and fantastic backgrounds, I wish that inspirations from Chinese art as well as more aspects from Chinese culture aside from the settings was explored a little bit more in this film. Though not perfect, at least it had a lot more effort put in to it than Hercules.

Overall, I still enjoy Mulan. While not one of the strongest Disney film, and I honestly wish it could have been stronger, but as it is, it is very entertaining with some good scenes and characters. I don't expect a lot of culture, but it at least has to be entertaining. Thankfully, Mulan is. I'd say it's well worth your time if you want to watch it again after this review.

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