Last Week's: Munir's Disney Retrospective - Animated Classic #35: Hercules (1997)
Mulan holds a very special place in my heart and I'll tell you why: I was eight years old when it came out in theatres, but I couldn't see it because something happened. I fell down from my grandmother's terrace and I almost died. I was in critical condition for some time and after I woke up, I was told not to move too much and I basically had to stay in bed the majority of time. Pretty boring stuff for an eight year old. Fortunately, my parents bought Mulan on video and I kept watching it over and over again. It may be the Disney film I have watch the most, and I know the dialogues and songs by heart. I tell you this so you know that when it comes to Mulan, nostalgia plays a very important part in my review.
Now that I've grown up and have been able to analyse it in a different light, I still see it as a very solid and compelling story about sacrifice, honour and love. It also features, what I think, is the best Disney heroine of all time. Forget the fact that she disguised herself as a man and saved China (which is very important too), but how she took her father's place in the army, even if it meant death for her. I think Mulan is an extraordinary character and it's the first film of asking how we fit into culture, what is expected from us and how it's okay sometimes to defy those expectations. That it also re-evaluates the role of women in society is an added bonus of the film.
With all this chatter, you may think Mulan comes out as a very preachy film but the good news is that it strikes a balanced tone between comedy and darkness. The wonderful thing is that all these messages are given to us in the form of subtext, so they stay with you long after the film has ended.
Mulan is not as dark as Pocahontas or Hunchback but it does have some bleak and harsh moments. One fine example is when they discover that the imperial army has been wiped out and a whole village has been destroyed. Another, and perhaps more powerful because it directly involves our lead character, is when Mulan is discovered to be a woman and all that happens after that. The film also does not have the typical 'happy ever after' finale. It does ends happily, but the two leads do not end up together (the seeds of a relationship are planted, but nothing is fully developed).
One element that Mulan has been criticized over the years is the character of Mushu, but I love him. I think he brings some wonderful, funny moments to the film, and Eddie Murphy's voice is perfect for the role. The rest of the characters are also very strong, providing comedy and some serious moments when it's needed.
The visuals are simply wonderful. The filmmakers went to China for inspiration and they are very faithful in the overall look of the film. You have the feeling that you've been transported to that country. The action scenes are also another standout, with the battle in the snow and the storming of the castle at the end serving as particular highlights, filled with excitement and non-stop action.
If I have to highlight one flaw in the film, it'd be the songs. They're not bad by any means, but they aren't as good as some songs featured in the film's predecessors. They serve their purpose in the film, but they're not very memorable. On the other hand, Jerry Goldsmith's score is magnificent, brimming with Chinese melodies and epic rhythms that make you feel you're watching something grand.
Mulan will always be special for me for the reason I mentioned above, but the good thing is that it's also a terrific film, one that provides thoughtful and top-notch entertainment. With very relevant messages and a wonderful leading character, Mulan is a Disney film that should not be missed, and it ranks in a high place in the Disney canon. Rating: 4.5/5.
Next Week - Animated Classic #37 Review: Tarzan (1999).