family movie Mulan (1998)


MulanStarring the voices of Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy, B.D. Wong, Harvey Fierstein, Miguel Ferrer, Soon-Teck Oh, George Takei, and Pat Morita.
Written by Eugenia Bostwick-Singer, Rita Hsiao, Philip Lazenbnik, Christopher Sanders, and Raymond Singer.
Songs by Matthew Wilder (music) and David Zippel (lyrics); score by Jerry Goldsmith.
Directed by Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook.

Grade: B

Review by Carlo Cavagna.

Ever since the financial bonanza of The Lion King, Disney has been cranking out one forgettable animated feature after another, including such pedestrian fare as Pocahontas. Only the dark Hunchback of Notre Dame was visually and thematically intriguing, but its failure at the box office caused Disney to react with the exuberantly insubstantial Hercules.

Mulan, based on the Chinese folk tale of a young woman (Ming-Na Wen, singing by Lea Salonga) who disguises herself as a man and goes to war against the Huns in the place of her aging father (Soon-Tek Oh), breaks the pattern of mediocrity. Of course, the usual Disney comedic elements are in place, provided mostly by 18-inch long dragon Mushu (Eddie Murphy), who is sent by Mulan's First Ancestor (voice of George Takei) to protect her on her adventure. Despite Mushu's antics, however, Mulan is surprisingly dramatic. Shang-Yu (voice of Miguel Ferrer), the implacable leader of the Hun hordes, is one of Disney's most villainous creations. Commanded by frequently shirtless Captain Shang (B.D. Wong, singing by Donny Osmond), for whom Mulan develops a romantic interest, the Chinese troops are overmatched and outnumbered. They must nevertheless find a way to protect the life of the Emperor (Pat Morita).

Shang-YuMulan's exotic visuals are just as lush and sinister as those of Hunchback, although Mulan--unlike Hunchback--remains accessible to children. Disney adds generous doses of Chinese imagery and philosophy to the film in an effort to give it a genuinely un-American flavor. Unfortunately, that spell is frequently broken early on by banal showtunes, such as "Mulan's Reflection" and "Honor to Us All," that are about as American as you can get. Furthermore, we are cheated out of the two best songs in any Disney animated feature--the songs by the comic sidekick and the villain are conspicuously absent.

It is particularly disappointing that the nefarious Shang-Yu does not sing, while Mushu's "Trust Me Babe" was apparently deleted sometime during production. The only song worth a hoot is "I'll Make a Man Out of You" (trivia: songwriter Matthew Wilder's previous career high came as a one-hit wonder in 1984, when his single "Break My Stride" reached the Billboard Top Ten). Fortunately, Jerry Goldsmith's powerful score redeems the overall quality of Mulan's music, but you can't help but wonder how much better the music could have been--especially if Disney had invited some actual Chinese composers to contribute to the soundtrack.

Review © March 1999 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © Disney.

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