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Mulan

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Mulan

Starring: Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy
Director: Jeff Tracha
Rated: G
RunTime: 88 Minutes
Release Date: June 1998
Genres: Animation, Kids


*Also starring: B.D. Wong, Lea Salonga, Mayor Quimby, Gedde Watanabe, Miguel Ferrer, Pat Morita, James Hong, June Foray



Review by MrBrown
4 stars out of 4

Although it undoubtedly upset Disney executives, the disappointing domestic box office performance of last year's _Hercules_ was probably the best thing to happen to the Mouse's animation house. While it was a light, expertly crafted, and highly enjoyable trifle, it was just that, a trifle, lacking the gravity that was a crucial ingredient of the studio's biggest financial (_The_Lion_King_) and artistic (_Beauty_and_the_Beast_, _The_Hunchback_of_Notre_Dame_) successes. Seemingly galvanized by that humbling wakeup call, Disney's tried-and-true blend of populist instincts and weightier interests is back in full force and top form in _Mulan_.

In its current animation renaissance, Disney has proven to be better suited to handling female protagonists (Belle, Ariel, Pocahontas) than male ones (Aladdin and Hercules were varying degrees of milquetoast), and the title character of Fa Mulan (spoken by Ming-Na Wen, sung by Lea Salonga) is no exception. Crippled in their ongoing war with the Huns, the shorthanded Imperial Chinese army requires that one male from each family join the military cause. The only male in the Fa family is Mulan's father (Soon-Tek Oh), and, despite his advanced age and bad leg, he valiantly agrees to enlist. Determined to save her father from what is certain death and maintain honor in the family, Mulan, in a sequence of stunning visual and emotional power, cuts her hair, dons battle armor, and joins the army with her father's summons as the male Ping.

Although all of Disney's recent heroines have been strong feminist role models, none have been quite as proactive as Mulan. As can be expected, she initially cannot keep up with the guys in basic training, but she manages to make her every man's equal, if not superior, through her sheer will and determination. Mulan's transformation is highly reminiscent of Demi Moore's in last year's Disney drama _G.I._Jane_, but _Mulan_ oneups that film's hour-long toughening process by efficiently covering the same ground during a single, rousing musical number, "I'll Make a Man Out of You," sung by army captain Shang (spoken by B.D. Wong, sung by, yes, Donny Osmond). _Mulan_ also out-G.I.'s _Jane_ by having its heroine rely mostly on wits, rather than brawn, in combat; while she has a high kick that rivals the best of them, it's her quick-thinking brain that proves to be most formidable.

The main thrust of the story sounds rather serious, but this is a Disney film, after all, and it would not be complete without the requisite comic relief, here in the form of the scrawny dragon Mushu (Eddie Murphy), who is Mulan's self-appointed guardian. A hilarious, jive-talking Murphy would appear to be an out of place in this largely earnest tale, but Mushu is more seamlessly integrated into the story than the seemingly grafted-on comic relief in the two most serious Disney efforts, _Hunchback_ and _Pocahontas_. _Hunchback_ and _Pocahontas_ could have lost the sore-thumb gargoyles and cute, mute Meeko the raccoon, respectively, without any major loss to the film as a whole; however, the presence of Mushu, while still an obvious concession to the masses, never feels gratuitous, and his funny presence would be sorely missed.

Disney animated features have a rich musical tradition, and the downward slide hinted at in _Hercules_ continues in _Mulan_. _Mulan_ is the first recent Disney animated effort that I feel could have easily survived _without_ the songs, even if they are kept to a paltry (for Disney standards) four. Only two of the tunes by composer Matthew Wilder (yes, he of "Break My Stride" fame) and _Hercules_ lyricist David Zippel, the lovely if very short "Reflection," Mulan's de rigueur "I Want" song; and the aforementioned "I'll Make a Man Out of You" serve a recognizable dramatic purpose. Nonetheless, Wilder deserves kudos for injecting some Oriental flavor into the songs--for the most part, anyway (only "I'll Make a Man..." sounds distinctly Western); but Zippel's lyrics are simply serviceable. Picking up the slack is score composer Jerry Goldsmith, who gives _Mulan_ an appropriate epic sweep, most memorably in the haunting cue that accompanies Mulan's fateful decision early in the film.

While the ears may be disappointed by _Mulan_, the eyes will be more than satisfied. Under the sure hands of directors Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft and art director Ric Sluiter, _Mulan_'s look has a texture uncommon to most animated features. Backgrounds are kept fairly simple, and the screen is often awash with scarlets and lavenders, creating a surreal yet emotionally true visual landscape. There's a general softness to the art, which fits nicely the Eastern art tradition and lends the film a distinct identity and personality.

I would not consider _Mulan_ to be in the upper echelon of Disney animated features occupied by _Beauty_ and the highly underappreciated _Hunchback_, but it ably upholds the Disney tradition of excellence. Inspiring, touching, serious, yet fun, _Mulan_ is animated entertainment of the highest order, putting half-hearted efforts like Warner Bros.'s recent _Quest_for_Camelot_ to shame.

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