Mulan (1998, Disney Movie) – 10/10 review

Director: Barry Cook
Director: Tony Bancroft
Writer (Original Story): Robert D. San Souci
Writer (Screenplay): Rita Hsiao
Writer (Screenplay): Christopher Sanders
Writer (Screenplay): Philip LaZebnik
Writer (Screenplay): Raymond Singer
Writer (Screenplay): Eugenia Bostwick-Singer
Composer (Songs): Matthew Wilder
Composer (Songs): David Zippel
Ming-Na Wen: Voice of Mulan
Lea Salonga: Singing Voice of Mulan
Soon-Teck Oh: Voice of Fa Zhou
B.D. Wong: Voice of Shang
Donny Osmond: Singing Voice of Shang
Freda Foh Shen: Voice of Fa Li
Eddie Murphy: Voice of Mushu

Mulan (1998)

Based on an ancient Chinese folk tale.

A young girl disguises herself as a boy and joins the army so that her frail father won’t have to serve. The ghosts of her all-seeing ancestors call up their mightiest dragon to help her but Mushu, a demoted mini-dragon, ends up going instead…

10/10

Spectacular animated masterpiece showing once more that by sticking to the ‘confines’ of the formula set by Walt Disney some 60 years earlier, the medium can achieve what almost no live-action movie can. Whoever thought there would be a Disney film featuring martial arts fighting, cross-dressing and a teenage girl killing people and blowing stuff up? Well, here it is, and jolly good it is too. The displays of selflessness and sense of duty also make for a positive moral message.

This movie contains violence, mild gore.

Classified U by BBFC. Universal: Suitable for All.

This is Disney’s most action-packed film with two major action set-pieces involving avalanches, cliff-side rescues, martial arts fighting (in a Disney film?!) and jumping off exploding buildings, Die Hard-style. This is unusual in a Disney film, what is even more unusual is that the heroine is a woman. Even live-action movies have trouble with women as action hero. Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in the Alien series was the only real female action heroine until now. Even Demi Moore’s G.I. Jane famously didn’t kill anyone but Mulan does, wow! (She kills thousands of charging Huns in the films most obviously spectacular sequence as well as engineering the death of the bad guy though she does not actually kill anyone face to face with her own hands.)

Unusually for a Disney film, this is rather exciting stuff. The closest Disney sequence of recent years, excitement-wise, is the wildebeest stampede of The Lion King but before that you have to go all the way back to the forest sequence or the evil queen chase sequence in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs made 60 years ago. Astonishing!

So, the action sequences are terrific, what about the other bits? The rest of the film can be broadly split into two: songs and character. The songs are all better than they first sound. They fit the film perfectly but don’t feel catchy or particularly memorable. This is probably thanks to the rap-like quality given to them so that there is more emphasis on the words rather than a tune. That said, the last song is delightfully funky (thanks go to one Mr. Stevie Wonder) and Jerry Goldsmith’s score is outstanding.

The characters are an interesting bunch. Our main character Mulan is well-defined as a independent-thinking girl who does not quite fit in and, despite the opinions of the hilarious matchmaker, has deep love for her own. Our hero is also well thought out. Under pressure to perform, he has to cope with trials and tribulations which come from his less-than-skilled troops, a troublesome observer and the death of his father (a particularly well-realised sequence in conjunction with a stunning audio moment). His relationship with Mulan is dealt with in such a subtle manner that children will not notice anything (and therefore keeps the pace of the movie going) but adults will see the clever little looks etc. The bad guy is an fantastically drawn piece of work, every time he appears on screen he is awesome. Majestically evil, undoubtedly the bad guy, a formidable foe, it is he the audience wants to see more of.

Further down the line we come to the comedy supporting characters, in this outing we have a very small dragon (voiced by the only real star on display Eddie Murphy) and an even smaller ‘lucky’ cricket with an amusing crisis of confidence. Both are good, very jolly, but Murphy is not quite as good as he may think he is and does best when he is sticking to story-explaining dialogue rather than pseudo-improvised babble.

A great movie from a great decade for Walt Disney Pictures.

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