July 30th, 2010

piranha - bored blunt cut.

Disney Movies: #36 Mulan (1998)

Entry #9 in the 'Watch all the Classic Disney (Animated) Movies' Challenge

Previous movies:
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
Peter Pan (1953)
One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
The Sword in the Stone (1963)
The Fox and the Hound (1981)
The Black Cauldron (1985)
Tarzan (1999)
Brother Bear (2003)
(Reviewed as I find the movies at the library, in case you wondered at the randomness of selections.)

It's been a while since I watched one of the Disney movies, but I haven't forgot about this challenge! Seanie and I have worked our way through all the Disney movies available at our local library branches, and for some weird reason San Jose won't let you request "entertainment" DVDs for inter-library transfer. (You can request documentaries and other educational films.) Yesterday we went to one of the branches a little further away from my house, and found several Disney movies, so I'll be talking about Disney a lot in the next two weeks.

Mulan was the first Disney movie featuring an Asian heroine (unless you could Princess Jasmine from Aladdin, as some people do), and is based on The Ballad of Mulan, one of the most well-known Chinese folktales. Thus, whenever the Disney Princesses franchise needs an Asian face to round out its cultural diversity, they pull Mulan into the marketing. I would like to take this opportunity to protest, because MULAN IS NOT A PRINCESS. She is not born as royalty and she does not marry into a royal house. Thus, Disney, my childhood dreams of an Asian Princess are still woefully unsatisfied. Just for the record.

Anyway. So the Huns are attacking China, and to protect his borders the Emperor decrees that every household must provide one man for his armies. When her father is conscripted, Mulan steals his armor and his sword, cuts off her hair, and joins the army disguised as 'Ping,' her father's son. What she lacks in physical strength she makes up with cleverness and the help of Mushu, a dragon spirit from her family's ancestral shrine. Under Captain Li, Mulan and her fellow soldiers face off with the Huns, but brute strength will not be enough to defeat the invading army. Can Mulan protect her secret identity and still save China?

I may be extremely biased, because I waited most of my childhood for this movie, but I really like Mulan. (Clarification: It's not that I was waiting for Mulan specifically, but I wanted a Disney Princess that looked like me. Not a blonde, blue-eyed Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, but an Asian princess. When Beauty and the Beast came out, that helped, because at least her hair color was dark like mine, but deep down I was still holding out for almond eyes.) The story is an interesting one, with lots of action and a strong heroine. Mulan doesn't wait for birds or fairies or princes to come and save her family; she takes it upon herself to do it. If she's caught cross-dressing, Mulan faces execution, but she doesn't even hesitate to save her father.
Come to think of it, that's another way that Mulan is pretty unique. She has two loving parents, something most of the other animated Disney characters can't claim. Her family gives her the strength to stand up and dare to do the impossible.

Mulan is longer than The Black Cauldron and Brother Bear, but it feels a *lot* shorter. The plotting of this film is really tight. I can't really think of any obviously superfluous scenes. Maybe the matchmaker scenes at the very beginning of the film were a bit long, but I think it was needed to establish how far Mulan's behavior veered from the societal norm.

Is the film without problems? Of course not. The power ballad "Reflection" helped launch Christina Aguilera's pop career (and the Chinese version sung by Coco Lee is really pretty, too) and the training montage during "I'll Make A Man Out of You" is pretty funny, but most of the songs are pretty mediocre. (Random fact: Mulan's singing voice, Lea Salonga, is also Jasmine's singing voice.) It veers from the original folklore (of course - what Disney movie doesn't?) and draws from all over China's long history to create a mythical China that can't be pinpointed to a particular historic period. But overall I think it's a very well-made movie, and definitely one of my favorites.

9/10 stars.

The image I've included was used for the Mulan promotion posters. I love it. I wish they'd used art like this on the DVD packaging. Oh, on that note. Mulan was Disney's first movie to be released on DVD. Trivia - it's good for you!