Steve’s Wonderful Reviews of Disney: Mulan

Mulan

Release Date: June 19th, 1998

Inspiration: The legend of Hua Mulan

Budget: $90 million

Domestic Gross: $120.6 million

Worldwide Gross: $304.3 million

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%

IMDB Score: 7.6/10

Storyline (per IMDB): This retelling of the old Chinese folktale is about the story of a young Chinese maiden who learns that her weakened and lame father is to be called up into the army in order to fight the invading Huns. Knowing that he would never survive the rigours of war in his state, she decides to disguise herself and join in his place. Unknown to her, her ancestors are aware of this and to prevent it, they order a tiny disgraced dragon, Mushu to join her in order to force her to abandon her plan. He agrees, but when he meets Mulan, he learns that she cannot be dissuaded and so decides to help her in the perilous times ahead.

Pre-Watching Thoughts: We continue on through the 1990s with another film that was solid when it first came out and has since been seen as another very underrated film in the Disney canon. This is one of those films that I have always had an interest in seeing especially with the live action film about to come out at some point, and after the last few films have pleasantly surprised me I am hoping that this one does the same. The Disney Renaissance has been on quite the roll since the decade started and hopefully it ends up finishing on a strong note.

Voice Cast: As we continue on through the 1990s, we once again have a predominantly new cast for this film while we only have a handful of actors returning for this film. We begin with the returning actors as June Foray returns to voice Grandmother Fa in one of her last roles with Disney, and then we have Frank Welker who voices numerous characters like Cri-Kee and the horse Khan while we finally have Mary Kay Bergman who voices the various ancestors in her last Disney film appearance. Moving onto the new actors, we have Ming-Na Wan who voices Mulan in arguably her biggest film role, and we also have the return of Lea Salonga who provides the singing voice for Mulan. We then have legendary actor Eddie Murphy who voices Mushu the dragon though he would voice a more memorable character in a few years, and then we have BD Wong who voices General Li Shang with Donny Osmond providing the singing voice in a memorable role. Next, we have Miguel Ferrer who voices Shan Yu in one of his only voice acting roles and perhaps his most memorable, and then we have Mami Nixon who provides the singing voice for Grandmother Fa in one of the last roles of her career. We then have the trio of Harvey Fierstein, Gedde Watanabe, and Jerry Tondo who voice Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po respectively with Matthew Wilder providing the singing voice for Ling, and then we have James Hong who voices Chi-Fu as it was in the midst of the prime of his career. Next, we have Soon-Tek Oh who voices Fa Zhou as he was in the twilight of his career, and then we have the legendary Pat Morita who voices the Emperor though he will forever be remembered as Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid. We then have George Takei who voices the main Ancestor though he is best remembered for being Mr. Sulu in Star Trek, and then we have Miriam Margolyes who voices the Matchmaker in a minor role. Next, we have Freda Foh Shen who voices Fa Li in one of her more memorable roles, and then we have James Shigeta who voices General Li in one of the last roles of his career and then we have Chris Sanders who voices Little Brother the dog as he also was involved in the writing of the screenplay. Finally, we have the pair of Rodger Bumpass and Richard Steven Horvitz who voice several additional characters that are uncredited, and it was wise that the majority of the cast was of Chinese descent and made things more authentic for the film.

Hero/Prince: This is pretty interesting in that the true hero of the film will be highlighted in a different category, but I feel we do have to talk about one of the other heroes in the film and that is Captain Li Shang. He is the son of General Li and assigned to train the new recruits to the arm which includes Mulan in disguise, and despite some early setbacks the recruits prove themselves to be capable of war. He is given a false order by Mushu posing as Li to follow the main army through the mountains, but they come upon a destroyed encampment and Shang learns that his father and the army have been massacred. The Huns ambush them in the mountains and Mulan causes an avalanche to bury them, and she also saves Shang from death though her cover is blown and Shang spares her life though expels her from the army. He arrives to the Imperial City though the Huns reveal they have survived and they capture the Emperor, and Shang teams up with Mulan and the other recruits as they rescue the Emperor and then Shang battles Shan Yu who nearly kills him until Mulan saves him. Mulan leads Shan Yu to his death and is honored by the Emperor though she returns home while the Emperor tells Shang she is special, and he follows her to her home under the pretext of returning her helmet and she invites him to stay for dinner. Shang is a typical young leader looking to stake his claim in the army while also making his father proud of him, and he becomes infatuated with Mulan though he is unaware she is a woman until after she is injured. He is disheartened by this coupled with the death of his father though she regains his trust when she helps him save the Emperor, and in the end he realizes that he has feelings for Mulan as he travels all the way to her home to see her again. While he won’t rank as high as the other heroes because he is not the main hero of the film, he is still a solid enough hero for the film.

Princess: As mentioned, the hero of the film actually belongs in this category which is ironic since she is also not officially a princess either, but she still plays the biggest role in the film and that is of course Fa Mulan. She is being prepared by her family to become a wife though she continuously fails due to her clumsiness and she believes to be a disgrace, and when she learns her father is to be drafted back into the army she takes his place to save him. She meets up with the new recruits under the name Ping and struggles at first with Captain Shang along with the other recruits, but she proves herself formidable and earns their trust. As the army heads through the mountains, they are ambushed by the Huns and a battle ensues as Mulan uses a rocket to cause an avalanche and bury the Huns, but she is attacked by Shan Yu who is buried as well and she saves Shang from falling off a cliff. While she is tended to, her real identity is revealed and Chi-Fu tells Shang that she must be executed per the law, but he declines because she saved his life though he does expel her from the army. She prepares to return home though realizes the Huns have survived and she heads to the Imperial City to warn everyone, but Shang refuses to believe her though she is proven right when Shan Yu and the Huns kidnap the Emperor. She works with Shang and the recruits to save the Emperor and Shan Yu recognizes her from the mountains, and he stalks her to the roof only for Mushu and Cri-Kee to create a giant rocket that sends Shan Yu into a tower of fireworks which kills him. Despite everything that has happened, the Emperor bestows upon her Shan Yu’s sword and the Emperor’s crest while offering her a position as an advisor, but she declines and returns home to her family though Shang follows her and she invites him to stay for dinner. Mulan is a unique princess in that she is not unlike women in that she means well and wants to bring honor to her family, she has trouble fitting in and is seen as an outcast even within her own family to the point that she sneaks into the army dressed as a man to save her father. She eventually becomes a trained warrior until her deception is revealed and she feels she let everyone down again, but she turns it around and helps save China from the Huns to the point that everyone bows to her in an unprecedented honor. Unlike the other princesses in the canon, she has proven herself to be brave, strong, and independent as she is the hero in the end, and it will be interesting to see how she ranks amongst the other princesses.

Villain: As I have mentioned, we have been on a really good run of some solid villains in the Disney canon and we will see if that trend continues here as we have the leader of the Huns in Shan Yu. He leads the Huns past the Great Wall of China and they begin their invasion of China, and they traverse the mountains and ambush General Li’s army as they massacre them and destroy the village they are staying in. Captain Shang leads his recruits through the mountains and the Huns ambush them though Mulan shoots off a rocket to cause an avalanche, and Shan Yu attacks them only to be buried under the snow along with the other Huns. They manage to survive the avalanche and reach the Imperial City where they capture the Emperor, but Mulan, Shang, and the recruits overcome the Huns and rescue the Emperor as Shang battles Shan Yu. He overpowers Shang until Mulan taunts him by reminding him that she was the one he attacked, and he chases her to the roof of the palace where she outsmarts him by taking his sword from him. She traps him on the roof while Mushu launches a rocket at him and he is shot into a tower of rockets which ultimately kills him. Shan Yu is about as generic of a villain as you can get as his lone goal is to lead the Huns in the conquest of China, and he is merciless and ruthless by having General Li’s entire army killed and a whole village destroyed. He feels that he is superior and threatens the kill the Emperor when he refuses to bow to him, but he is outsmarted by Mulan which leads to his defeat and death. While he is not quite as memorable as the villains from the Disney Renaissance, he is still a pretty solid villain though he probably won’t rank as high as some of the other villains.

Other Characters: Much like the last couple of films that we’ve had, we have a solid number of characters to fill out the film though once again only a handful of them are more important than others. Starting off the list of other characters, we have the dragon Mushu who is a disgraced guardian and he is tasked by the ancestors to awaken the stone dragon to protect Mulan, but he accidentally destroys it though he covers it up and seeks to protect Mulan himself. He does his best to help Mulan train and at one point creates a fake order to see her succeed, but he inadvertently leads them to the destroyed encampment where they find the main army has been killed. He stays by Mulan’s side even after she is expelled though he becomes disenfranchised and reveals his secret to Mulan, and then they head to the Imperial City where Mushu creates a rocket that sends Shan Yu into the tower of rockets. When Mulan returns to her home, he is restored as a guardian by the ancestors much to the First Ancestor’s chagrin. We then have the bug Cri-Kee who is believed to bring luck to the Fa Family and he stays by Mulan’s side throughout the whole journey, and then we have the recruits for the army led by Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po who are hostile to Mulan at first though they grow to respect her and they become friends. They assist Mulan by dressing up as concubines and taking out the Huns so they can save the Emperor and they remain friends with Mulan when she leaves, and then we have the Emperor’s advisor Chi-Fu who keeps record of Shang’s training of the recruits. After they discover that Mulan is a woman, he is insistent that she be executed per the law though Shang refuses and instead expels her, and after Shan Yu is killed he tries to confront Mulan only for the Emperor to offer her his position which causes him to faint though she declines. We then have Mulan’s family including her father Fa Zhou, her mother Fa Li, and her Grandmother Fa who try to make Mulan into what they want her to be, and when it is decreed that one man from each family must join the army Fa Zhou intends to re-enlist though Mulan ends up taking his place much to their chagrin. Next, we have what Mulan calls Little Brother which is actually the pet dog who Mulan enlists to help her feed the chickens, and then we have the Emperor who decrees that a man from every family must join the army to combat the Huns. When the Huns reach the Imperial City and kidnap the Emperor, Mulan and her friends save him while taking out the Huns and the Emperor offers her the sword of Shan Yu and the crest of the Emperor while also offering her a position as advisor which she declines. We then have the Matchmaker who tries to mold Mulan into a suitable concubine though is left frustrated when Mulan messes things up, and finally we have the Ancestors who summon Mushu to awaken the stone dragon to protect Mulan though he breaks it and Mushu lies to the Ancestors as he goes to protect Mulan. After Mulan saves China and returns home, the Ancestors recognize Mushu as a guardian again and celebrate Mulan’s victory. It is interesting that there are this many supporting characters though most of them we only see a few times while others play a bigger role, and we will see how things continue to go as we move onto the next decade.

Songs: Since the Disney Renaissance started, the films had been created to resemble Broadway musicals and they have added an extra layer to them as well as leave great moments, but it seemed to be that the formula was starting to wear a bit thin starting with this film. Unlike the previous films which had at least five or more songs throughout the film, we only have four songs in this film though this is the type of film that wouldn’t have worked as well as a full musical film like its predecessors. The first song in the film is the song “Honor to Us All” sung by Mulan, her mother, and her grandmother as they work to make Mulan a worthy concubine in a solid song, and then we have one of the trademark songs of the film “Reflection” which Mulan sings as she laments on her life in a pretty powerful ballad. We then have the other trademark song “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” sung by Captain Shang while training the new recruits in a pretty memorable sequence, and finally we have “A Girl Worth Fighting For” that the recruits sing as they dream about the concubines they will get after winning the world in a fun song. As usual, we have the pop singles for the soundtrack as well as we have “True to Your Heart” sung by 98 Degrees and Stevie Wonder, and of course we have the pop version of “Reflection” sung by Christina Aguilera as she was about to launch her career. While these songs were good and worked well for the film, it will be interesting to see what direction Disney decides to go as we come to the end of the decade.

Plot: For the third time in four films, we have a film that is based on a historical legend as we first had Pocahontas who we know existed in real life, then we have Hercules who we believe had existed in real life and now we have Mulan who is believed to have actually never existed. Known in lore as Hua Mulan, she is still one of the more beloved figures in Chinese lore even though she was in essence a character created for a ballad though her legend grew to such lengths that I’m sure many think she did exist at some point. In the plot of the film, Mulan struggles to bring honor to her family when an edict is issued that one man from each family must join the army to combat the invasion of Shan Yu and the Huns, and Mulan decides to disguise herself as a man and takes her father’s place as part of the recruits. Aided by the disgraced guardian Mushu and her cricket Cri-Kee, she joins Captain Li Shang’s unit and is trained alongside other green recruits who are cold to her at first though they become friends, and they traverse the mountains where they discover the main unit has been massacred by the Huns which includes Shang’s father. They are ambushed by the Huns and they fight back as Mulan uses a rocket to cause an avalanche and bury the Huns, and she is injured by Shan Yu and also saves Shang from falling off a cliff though they discover that she is not a man. Instead of executing her per the law, Shang spares her due to her saving him though he expels her from the army and they continue to the Imperial City, and Mulan prepares to return home though she discovers the Huns have survived and are headed to the City. She arrives and tries to warn of the danger though no one believes her and the Huns spring an ambush as they kidnap the Emperor, and Mulan works together with Shang and the recruits as they defeat the Huns and save the Emperor. Mulan and Shang battle Shan Yu as he discovers Mulan was the solider that caused the avalanche, and he chases her onto the roof only for Mushu and Cri-Kee to create a giant rocket that sends Shan Yu into a tower of rockets which kills him. Mulan is recognized by the Emperor for her heroism and he offers her a position as an advisor though she declines so she can return home, and she is given the sword of Shan Yu and the Crest of the Emperor as gifts. She returns home though Shang follows her on the pretense of returning her helmet though he is invited to stay for dinner while Mushu is reinstated as a guardian. While the film does take some liberties with the ballad which is usually common for a film that is geared towards children, it does a fine job in making Mulan a fine hero and princess as well as let more people know about her tale.

Random Watching Thoughts: The time period that this film is set is unsure given that the legend sets her in either Northern Wei or Qing, but it had to be sometime when the Great Wall was built; I know it’s dark out, but wouldn’t the guards be more aware that the giant army of Huns was approaching them?; The guard was so proud that he was able to light the fires though he was about to be killed anyway; A single grain of rice can tip the scale; You’ve heard of kids writing notes on their hand, well Mulan takes it a step further by writing notes on her arm; It is funny that Mulan calls the dog her “little brother”; Honestly, I don’t think that a dog pulling a bag of feed around the yard is the most efficient way to feed the chickens; Fa Zhou is trying so hard to pray only for the chickens to interrupt him; That did take quite a bit of luck for Grandmother Fa not to get hurt like that; How did her notes not get washed off so easily?; Cri-Kee was so reluctant to help; Reflect before you snack, true advice we can all live by; How did the Matchmaker not realize that she had ink on her hand?; It doesn’t help Mulan when the Matchmaker makes a perfect mustache and beard combo with the ink on her hand; Cri-Kee was feeling good relaxing in that tea; Mulan should’ve known that when there’s a fire, you can’t fan the flames because that’ll make it worse; Grandmother Fa is so optimistic; I have to say that “Reflection” is one of those unheralded songs you don’t hear enough about; You have to give Fa Zhou credit for being willing to fight even though he is likely to be killed; That didn’t take long for them to find out that Mulan had left and taken Fa Zhou’s place; Clearly, Mushu is bitter about being demoted; Those two Ancestors looked like the American Gothic painting; Fa Deng was beheaded in real life and now he has to spend his days as a specter with his head still separated from his body; He knocks the ear off and it leads to the entire statue being destroyed; Those scouts didn’t do a good job staying hidden from the Huns; I wonder if Shan Yu was supposed to be similar to Genghis Khan, but they had to create a new character since Genghis Khan never lost a battle in his life; Mulan had nothing nearby to throw at Khan so she had to use her shoe; Mushu goes through this grand entrance and all he gets for it is a stomping from Khan; To be fair, Mushu did deserve to get slapped when he said he could see through Mulan’s armor; That guy actually went so far as to get a dragon tattoo on his chest; Of course the biggest one would be the most passive one; I feel bad for that chef having his precious rice stew knocked over like that; The way that Chi-Fu was acting almost made you think that he was going to be revealed as a spy for the Huns; Shang is so confident that his troops would be the best and he comes out of his tent to see a wild brawl between the troops; Even after seeing the scene, General Li is still sure that Shang will get the job done; Yao had to get one last punch in; Fa Zhou must’ve been a great warrior in the army if they are astonished to learn he had a son they didn’t know about; I think Mushu should’ve let Cri-Kee know that he was going to use him as an alarm clock; Sleeping Beauty reference; Mushu would be the kind of dragon that would have bunny slippers; Chi-Fu tells them to be in order and they ask for food; That couldn’t be good for Yao’s teeth; If you ask many people what they remember most about this film, I guarantee they will say “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”; Of all the tents that rocket had to it, it would be Chi-Fu’s; It is funny how in the span of a song and a montage that all the recruits went from being completely inept to fully trained warriors; I didn’t think they had corn chips in ancient China; Mushu not being subtle at all saying there are many things the men will notice if they see Mulan in the water; Chien-Po dips his toe in the water to test the temperature before doing a full cannonball in; Ling hasn’t seen many dragons if he thinks Mushu is a snake; Mushu even has a toothbrush with toothpaste; In Mulan’s defense, Chi-Fu could use a good punch in the face; Chi-Fu actually carries a picture of himself and the Emperor wherever he goes; Cri-Kee writing on the paper and making sounds like a typewriter; Does Mushu need the potpourri that bad?; Where did they find a panda?; The cattle were like “say what?”; The men were so excited to have a girl back home after they win the war; Mushu created a fake order for them to join the army only to find out that if he did it earlier, they maybe could’ve saved them; Mushu threw Cri-Kee under the bus quickly; How did none of the earlier rockets cause an avalanche yet the one that Mulan fires into the mountain is the one that causes it?; Yao must have really good vision if he only has one eye; Chien-Po comes over and just casually carries everyone back so they can pull Mulan and Shang to safety; I just noticed that the medical tent had a white patch with a red dot similar to the Japanese flag; Chi-Fu has no mercy on Mulan even though she is wounded; It’s a good thing that Mulan didn’t leave earlier and was able to notice the Huns survived the avalanche; They put together quite the celebration in such a short time; So I looked it up and China refers to itself as “The Middle Kingdom” because they believed to be at the center of the world; The Huns got their fairly quickly to be able to disguise themselves in such record time; They were way too willing to be dressed up like women; Mongolian barbecue; The Emperor just casually walks away while Shang battles with Shan Yu; Mulan still throwing her shoe at people; It’s never a good idea to say you’re making the plan up as you go in such a situation like this; Mushu looking a bit like Batman; The fan is mightier than the sword; Talk about a grand finale; The Emperor lists all the bad things Mulan has done yet is grateful that she saved everyone that he bows to her out of respect; Chi-Fu wanted nothing to do with Mulan so the Emperor was willing to give her his position; That awkward moment between Mulan and Shang before she leaves; The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful flower of all; Basically, the Emperor is telling Shang not to let Mulan get away from him; Mulan desperately presents the gifts to her father thinking she has shamed him when he couldn’t be more proud of her; Mulan comes home a war hero and Grandmother Fa is upset she doesn’t have a man; The Ancestor was so reluctant to admit that Mushu did a great job and was worthy of becoming a guardian again; The Ancestors were earlier so critical of Mulan when she left and now they claimed they knew all along she would be a hero; Technically, Mushu shouldn’t be to blame for the dog and chickens getting into the party; Still crazy to think that it was a song from this film is what was the launching pad for Christina Aguilera.

Overall Thoughts: Overall, this film was a pretty solid film and I enjoyed it slightly more than Hercules, but it was still a slight notch before Hunchback and obviously not on the level of the top films from the Disney Renaissance. Having never seen any of these films when they first came out and only seeing them for the first time now over 20 years later, I am amazed how well these films have held up and I realize that I missed out on seeing them when they first came out. Again, these last few films aren’t as good as the films from earlier in the decade, but they still hold up very well against some of the other films from earlier in the canon. We only have one film left in the 1990s and what many consider the end of the Renaissance, so we will see if that film holds up like these ones and if the decade ends on a high note. As for this film, it is a pretty good film and one that I enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would.

Final Grade: 7.5/10