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A fun Disney take on ancient China

  • Aug 28, 2011
I haven't seen a Disney animated feature since Lion King, but I saw Mulan recently with my wife and have to say I enjoyed it. As somebody who studies Asia, I think it's about time Disney ventured into Asia (with the exception of Jungle Book, I believe this is the first animated feature based on an Asian story). The story, in short, follows a Chinese woman who joins the army and helps stop a Hun invasion. Disney of course overplays the traditional Asian values theme (honor the ancestors, etc), but fortunately it never takes this to the point of being insulting towards Asian cultures. The story has a good balance between character and childish humor - at least for the first hour - so both adults and kids can enjoy it. I was disappointed with the second half, after the Chinese troops discover that Mulan is a woman. Rather than take that revelation and get some really interesting character development, the last half our of the film is a predictable fare of Mulan and her compatriots stopping the Huns with some wacky antics. Despite this lackluster ending, overall it's not bad.

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About the reviewer
Dominic J Nardi ()
Ranked #39
I am a recent law school grad with an interest in Southeast Asia legal issues. Unfortunately for my checkbook, ever since high school I have been addicted to good books. I have eclectic tastes, although … more
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Solid entertainment from a new group of Disney animators. The story source is a Chinese fable about a young girl who disguises herself as a man to help her family and her country. When the Huns attack China, a call to arms goes out to every village, and Mulan's father, being the only man in the family, accepts the call. Mulan (voiced by Ming-Na Wen, sung by Lea Salonga) has just made a disastrous appearance at the Matchmaker and decides to challenge society's expectations (being a bride). She steals her father's conscription notice, cuts her hair, and impersonates a man to join the army. She goes to boot camp, learning to fit in with the other soldiers with some help from her sidekick, Mushu, a wise-cracking dragon (voiced by Eddie Murphy). She trains, and soon faces the Huns eye-to-eye to protect her Emperor.

The film is gorgeous to look at, with a superior blend of classic and computer-generated animation. Directors Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook make the best of it: a battle in the snowy mountains is as thrilling as the best Hollywood action films. The menacing Huns are not cute but simple and bad. The wickedness is subtle, not disturbing. The film is not a full-fledged musical, as it has only five songs (the best, "Be a Man," is sung during boot camp). Eddie Murphy is an inspired choice for the comic-relief dragon, but his lines are not as clever as Robin Williams's in Aladdin. These are minor quibbles, though. The story is strong, and Mulan goes right to the top of Disney ...

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DVD Release Date: October 26, 2004
Runtime: 88 minutes
Studio: Walt Disney Video
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