Mulan

Rating:

Mulan Brings Honor To All

Main Voice Cast: Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy, Miguel Ferrer, B.D. Wong

Director: Tony Bancroft

One of these days, I will watch this movie and NOT cry. Indeed, it’s beginning to alarm my son who enjoys the movie until he looks at my face and questions, “Mama crying?”

Mulan is easily my favorite Disney movie. I know this is cliché, but: It makes me laugh, it makes me cry, it makes me proud. It’s a movie to experience as well as to watch. As a whole, the movie gets top rankings, but even when it is broken down into its component parts, it loses none of its finery. On a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 being the worst and 5 being the best), I rank the various aspects of Mulan:

The story: 5
The music: 4
The animation: 5
The voices: 5
The message: 5

The Story

Disney adapted the historical story of Mulan to one that was slightly more dramatic and condensed. The Huns are invading China, led by a truly evil man, Shan Yu. The Chinese army calls up its soldiers, asking every family to send a man to fight the Huns. Mulan’s father had fought in a previous war and received a crippling injury.

Mulan herself has just disgraced herself with her clumsiness and over-exuberance at the matchmaker’s home. She cannot bear to see her father sent off to a war that would be certain death for someone as injured as he is. So she disguises herself as a boy and takes his place. The family ancestral spirits send Mushu, a small dragon, after her to try to bring her back. (Actually, they send Mushu to wake the Great Stone Dragon, but Mushu “breaks” him and sneaks off in his place before the ancestors can notice.)

Instead, Mulan convinces Mushu that she is doing what she must and the two of them tackle basic training and go to war with the Chinese. Mulan becomes a hero not because she is the strongest, bravest, or the quickest. Instead, she saves China by being clever and by using her wits. She is also loyal and loving to her comrades and instills similar loyalty in them.

Some of the best moments in this movie occur through understatement and inference-something not always common in children’s movies. There is a scene where Shan Yu has captured two Chinese soldiers. He gives them a message to take back to the emperor. As they are running away, Shan Yu turns to one of his men and says, “How many people does it take to deliver a message?” The Hun gives him an evil grin, cocks an arrow, and says, “one.” Then the scene freezes for a moment and goes to the next scene. It is creepy, yet much more effective than if the Hun had murdered the soldier on screen.

The Music

What would an animated Disney movie be without the music? After seeing Mulan the first time in the theater, I was slightly disappointed in the music. My husband, who is usually the one who dislikes singing in movies or on the stage, was surprised. He thought the music was extremely good and memorable. Now that I’ve watched the video several times, I’d have to agree with him. I think that I was so swept away by the other aspects of this show that the music became less memorable only in comparison.

One rather effective use of the soundtrack was to create jarring transitions between scenes. At one point, the soldiers are singing a jolly rendition of A Girl Worth Fighting For, slapping each other on the back, and being merry. The song is cut off mid-line as they crest a hill and see a town savaged and burnt to the ground by the Huns.

The Animation

Mulan illustrates beautifully why we still do animated shows. There are some things that even in this age of multi-million dollar budgets would be cost-prohibitive. The scene where the army of Huns come riding over the snow-covered mountains is impressive in its scope. I cannot begin to imagine the costs of trying to shoot that scene with live actors and horses.

Colors also play a large role in the effectiveness of this movie. The scenes with the Huns tend to be done in a sepia tone while Mulan’s home is in shades of pink and orange. Scenes vary in starkness and brightness according to the mood that the screenwriters are trying to set.

The Voices

Eddie Murphy does the voice of Mushu. Need I say more?

OK, since you could have gotten that from looking at a cast/crew list at Amazon, I will say more. He is hilarious. Yes, it is a decidedly American vegetable thrown into the crock pot, but Disney is still a predominately American company and the audience is mostly American children as well. I have no problem with Disney throwing in an otherwise anachronistic character to make the movie more accessible.

Murphy creates a character with Mushu with his ever-so-memorable voice. Indeed, he ends up with some of the best lines in the movie.

The Message

I don’t demand that every children’s show or movie be educational. After all, sometimes I just want to be entertained, I expect children feel the same way. Nonetheless, when a show can educate while still being imminently entertaining, it’s a bonus. Mulan succeeds at this on many levels.

First, there is the pure historical angle to the movie. It creates a great springboard for discussing the history of China, the Huns, and the Great Wall of China. The legend of Mulan herself is an ancient one and the story varies from the movie. If one’s child is in love with the movie, it is an easy next step to suggest finding out more about the things in the movie.

On another level, there are social lessons to be explored in this movie. Mulan is expected to be a good wife, not a war hero. Her credibility and good sense are compromised solely on the basis of her gender. Parents can easily use the treatment she receives as a discussion starter on why we give some people credibility and not others. It can also encourage a child-no matter what the gender-to aspire to reach their dreams, no matter how out-of-reach they may seem.

Some have complained that for a Disney movie, there was a lack of romance in this movie. The romance between Mulan and Shang is subtle and not once do they admit to each other that they have strong feelings for the other. Yet, I think that is part of the magic of this movie. Mulan, unlike other Disney heroines, is a hero not because she wins the affection of a handsome man, but because she saves China. We are left with the hope that she and Shang will end up together, but that is secondary to who Mulan is and what she has accomplished.

Overall

What do I dislike about Mulan? I dislike that it reminds me what a sap I am. I cry every time I see the scene with the emperor. I cry every time I see the last scene between Mulan and her father. And I grin with pride every time Mulan comes up with a clever solution to the challenges and hurdles thrown in her path.

When I grow up, I want to be like Mulan.

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