Movie Review: Mulan

The 1990s was arguably the most revolutionary time not just for the Walt Disney Animation Studios, but for animation in general. After the phenomenal success of 1989's The Little Mermaid, there was a creative awakening of sorts. Disney realized what truly made them great in the first place- great stories, magical music and groundbreaking animation. Films like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, and Pocahontas followed, all of which are considered true animation classics. This was the period of the great Disney Renaissance. Critical reception and box office profits soared, and "Disney" became a household name for a new generation.

The period from 1989 to 1999 is generally regarded as the Renaissance decade. Released towards the end of it in 1998, Mulan was another great success. Its winning combination of beauty and brains- lavish animation, stirring songs and a solid story- have made it another Disney classic today.



Set in ancient China, Mulan tells the story of a spirited young girl who strives to bring honor to her family. Rejected by the local Matchmaker as someone who would never make a suitable wife, Mulan does what any one of us would have done- steals her father's armor, disguises herself as a man and rides off to fight the Huns in her father's place (you would have done the same thing too, right?). On her journey to prove herself, Mulan is joined by her guardian dragon Mushu, and Cri-kee the lucky cricket. What follows is a grand tale of courage, determination and valor, as Mulan proves that you can do anything you set your heart to.

Everything in Mulan works perfectly. The animation is some of the best hand-drawn work you'll ever see, with beautiful representations of Chinese landscapes and motifs. The very opening of the film is gorgeous, with watercolor strokes on parchment. The blending of traditional Chinese symbols and traditions with modern sensibilities is done really well. Look out for dust clouds that resemble spiral smoke as seen in Chinese paintings, tender pink blossoms and beautiful backgrounds.


The music is as beautiful, with stirring tunes that you'll never forget. The biggest and most memorable song in the film is "Reflection", wonderfully performed by Disney legend Lea Salonga (also the singing voice of Jasmine in Aladdin). Other songs like "I'll Make A Man Out Of You" and "Honor To Us All" provide a great way to move the story forward. Mulan is also pop singer Christina Aguilera's claim to fame; her version of "Reflection", as heard over the end credits propelled her to stardom.

What sets Mulan apart from many Disney movies is the themes it explores. This isn't a story of a girl wanting to go to a ball in a fancy dress and fall in love with a prince. Neither is it one where the princess waits atop a tower to be awoken by true love's first kiss. In Mulan, our heroine takes her fate into her own hands and has her priorities straight- honor and duty to family first, love life second. Mulan's quest for upholding the family honor eventually becomes a story of a girl determined to prove herself, as is witnessed in a gripping scene where she retrieves an arrow from the top of a pole. The climactic battle atop the imperial palace is her moment- and also is one of the best Disney fights ever. I can personally say that of all eleven Disney Princesses, Mulan ranks really high on my list. She's also one of the strongest and most well-balanced Disney characters ever.


Two scenes in the film are standouts- the first where Mulan decides to run away and take her father's place, cutting off her hair in the process. The second is a snow covered battle against the Huns- the sheer spectacle of this scene rivals the wildebeest stampede in The Lion King. The use of CGI wasn't the first time for an  animated film- but is possibly one of the most effective ever.


Like every Disney film, Mulan isn't all about drama and battles- there's plenty of tasteful humor and lighthearted moments- courtesy Mushu (well voiced by Eddie Murphy) and Mulan's fellow soldiers, Chien-Po, Ling and Yao. Eddie Murphy as Mushu isn't exactly the show-stealer the filmmakers wanted him to be, but still works well.

As for the Disney Villain, I can honestly say that Shan-Yu, the lead Hun is deadly and terrifying. He doesn't have magic powers or a crazy sidekick, but is just downright bad. Everything from his voice to character design have been done superbly. While Shan-Yu may not be the greatest Disney Villain, his time during the film is definitely scary. Let's just say that I would not like to cross paths with him.

All in all, Mulan remains to this day one of the crown jewels of Disney Animation. The perfect combination of story, music, characters and humor makes this not just one of the greatest Disney Classics, but one of the greatest animated films, ever. I struggle to find a single fault, because everything is so marvelously balanced and treated with so much reverence. Ignore the whispers of Asian stereotyping, there's nothing in there. Mulan is nothing less than a winner.


    Like Mulan's father says, "The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all."

RATING:

Disney's Mulan will be available for the first time ever on 15th Anniversary Special Edition Blu-ray March 2013. Pre-order it now from Amazon!

More Disney Classics Reviews: *Frozen
                                                       *Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 

                                                       *Cinderella 
                                                       *Peter Pan 
                                                       *Wreck-It Ralph


 

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