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A movie directed by Barry Cook

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Cross-Dresser, Dragon and Cricket Save the World

  • Feb 18, 2002
Pros: Incredible visuals, Eddie Murphy performs the voice of the dragon

Cons: Formulaic Disney, lack of a decent villain

The Bottom Line: Disney is right back to where they once belonged, and that ain't a bad thing.

We've seen the routine so many times in Disney movies. You know: Prominent person in society is evil villian who is up to no good. Underdog main character and cute animal sidekick know the truth, try to convince others of the truth, no one believes them, main character defeats evil villain single-handedly, saves day, marries prominent society rich girl, happily ever after. Sure, the execution of the story varies, but it's always the same in the end. Disney uses it for the vast majority of their animated features these days, so it's not about what it is anymore but how good it is. Mulan, I'm pleased to say, is one of the better ones. It even redeems that horrible Hercules movie that came out earlier, as well as the weak Tarzan that came out some years later.

Mulan is slightly different because it reverses the roles of the men and women-the woman is the underdog, out to save her family's honor by doing the thing that the man of the house couldn't do. The prominent society rich man that she winds up with in the end is her commander.

The main character is, of course, Mulan, who is seen as something as an oddity due to her ditziness and her independent (read: radical) ways of thinking. When we first meet her, she is preparing for her matchmaking ceremony by writing her wifely duties on her arm; she has to recite them to the matchmaker. But before going to the ceremony, she is given the standard bride makeover, which includes a bath. I don't think I need to tell you how that ruins her matchmaking test, and in the end it really doesn't matter anyhow; slipping up the recitation is just one of the ways in which she blows it. In the end, the matchmaker literally throws her out with a shout of "You'll never bring your family honor!". Devestated, she returns home to her parents, only to find out that daddy has been drafted into the army, as the huns conviniently chose that time to invade China. But the old bearded guy is too old to wear the armor, so Mulan dons the iron suit and goes off to do the dirty work herself.

This doesn't sit well with dad, so off he goes to his shrine to pray for her safety. And wouldn't you know it, her ancestors hear the prayer, upon which they immediatly begin bickering over which side of the family is the more freakish ("Your grandfather was a cross-dresser!"). But at least they're all competent enough to know that they have to send one of the great dragons out to watch Mulan. So they send fast-talking, pocket size dragon Eddie Murphy (alright, so his name isn't really Eddie Murphy. I can't remember his name, but I remember him being voiced by Eddie Murphy. So sue me.) out to wake the big dragon. Why they couldn't do it themselves is beyond me, but the great dragon is destroyed in the process of his awakening (don't ask), so the wiseass dragon takes his place.

With the help of dragon and a little cricket, Mulan passes through training, where she oogles the commander, goes to war, saves the day, is found out before going to the capital of China and saving the day again.

Standard, predictable old Disney, like I said. But dang if it isn't a spectacular standard, predictable old Disney film. The first thing you'll remember about it is Murphy, whose brash, sarcastic tongue somehow makes every word that comes out of his mouth, no matter how pointless, worth listening to-kind of like Donkey in Shrek (what am I saying, kind of? it's exactly like Donkey.). The second thing is Mulan herself, a character I'm sure a lot of us can relate to, driven out of her desire to do what's right, yet always slipping up at a crucial moment. The scenes when she has to pretend to be a man are some of the funniest in the movie; she knows how to act like a man, but she just can't get the habits right. Mulan makes up for many of the other characters, who are all as animated as they appear. It really is sad when the third and last character worth remembering is the lucky little silent cricket that accompanies Mulan throughout the entire film. The father has a couple of moments, but after that, no one is worth remembering-not even the bad guy. And Disney has created some of the most colorful, amusing villains ever seen onscreen.

Then you have the technical aspects. Animation reached a new standard with Mulan. Every scene, every character moves with beautiful fluidity, and the battle scene on the snow-covered mountain is breathtaking-hundreds of Mongolian warriors charging down a snow-covered mountain, and the avalanche at the conclusion of the scene. The mountain looks almost 3d.

The voice talent is well done for the most part, but they really should have hired a better voice actor to play Mulan. Mulan is played by Ming-na, one of my favorite character actresses. Put her in front of a camera and she can do anything. Take away the camera, replace it with a soundstage, and put her character on a drawing board or computer, and she sounds unconvincing and lifeless. Granted, it's amusing to hear her attempt at a deep barritone, but she should stay away from voice-overs. For further evidence, just watch her performance in that god-awful Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Or, better yet, take my word for it. I wouldn't wish Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within on my worst enemy. Murphy I already mentioned, and the love interest is a bit on the drab side, but being a serious minded military commander, he's supposed to be.

Though it has a few adult ideas, Mulan is a childrens' movie through and through. You have all the regular songs, the obligatory catchy sing-along song, the obligatory soul-searching power ballad, and all the jokes are standard slapstick jokes: Guy tries to run out the door but misses, stuff like that. Although, this movie being about a cross-dresser, there is a very funny scene involving male nudity, but thank God, they don't show anything. And the writing is the most inspired I've heard in animated films in years.

So Mulan is standard Disney, but at least it isn't hollow Disney, like some others (cough*Hercules!*hack). With everyone jumping on the animation bandwagon these days, it's nice to see that someone made an actual attempt at something that's both entertaining and animated.


Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children up Ages 8

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Nicholas Croston ()
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About this movie


Disney fashions a modern-day icon of girl power with its animated adaptation of the 2,000-year-old Chinese folktale MULAN. When barbarous Huns attack ancient China, the fiercely independent Mulan (voiced by Ming-Na Wen) defies tradition by disguising herself as a man in order to take her ailing father's place in the Imperial Army. With the help of Mushu (voiced by the resilient and newly kid-friendly Eddie Murphy), a wisecracking guardian dragon sent by her ancestors for protection, Mulan trains in boot camp and then heads off to face the brutal Hun leader Shan-Yu (voiced by Miguel Ferrer)--all the while struggling to keep her gender identity a secret. Chock full of the usual Disney delights--breathtaking visuals, catchy songs, and an inspirational protagonist of courage and conviction--MULAN is a welcome addition to the studio's annals of classic animation.
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Director: Barry Cook
Release Date: 1998
MPAA Rating: G
DVD Release Date: Buena Vista Home Entertainment (November 09, 1999)
Runtime: 1hr 28min
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