The Disney Marathon: ‘Mulan’


Last week we covered an older, more obscure part of the Disney oeuvre, an attempt to broaden the cultural diversity in their output. Now we’re jumping forward to more recent efforts where they…well…did it again.

For those just joining us, this is a movie marathon with a twist. Myself (cranky 30s blogger), my son Josh (stoic 10 year old Nintendo obsessive) and my daughter Amelia (drama llama 7 year old princess wannabe) are watching Disney movies in a random order and ranking them. We hope to see interesting differences in how we organise our lists.

Film: Mulan

Released: 1998

Director: Barry Cook, Tony Bancroft

Cast: Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy, BD Wong, Miguel Ferrer, June Foray, James Hong, Pat Morita, George Takei

Plot: During the 15th century China, the young woman Fa Mulan dons a disguise and takes her father’s place in in the military. During her service she participates in a battle against a vicious Hun army invaded her country.

Review: Even now this sounds like a strange project for Disney to be taking on, almost like some kind of parody. A historical and popular Chinese ballad about a woman literally taking on a man’s role and schooling them in how to do it right – it could potentially have cultural appropriation and a forced modern issue! Surprisingly this movie potentially walks the line quite deftly, with the major change to the source material being Mulan being discovered as a woman rather than only revealing the truth after a highly respected military career than spanned many years.

At the end of the day this is very much the mid-tier effort of the Disney Renaissance that stretch past the boundaries of the 1990s. It’s not as messy as Hunchback of Notre Dame or Hercules and it’s not as polished as The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast. There’s not much to complain about but there’s little solid gold material to balance it out. Having Mulan at the centre of it all makes move things along. The attractive girl being rejected due to clumsiness is one of the most ridiculous modern tropes, but Mulan shapes up to be such a cool, clever and fun protaganist we’ve got coming out of this era. Ming-Na Wen is an excellent performer to give Mulan her voice. Mulan is also the only Disney Princess with a body count in the hundreds.

Also among the golden nuggets are the theme of masculinity and the different aspects of this being represented in the supporting cast. Mulan’s – or Ping’s – attempts to blend in and act like a man is hilarious on its own, but there’s something about the diversity of her peers in the army that gives it an extra layer. We always love that the soldiers who fought alongside her get her back at the end whilst Shang does not. It’s just a shame that the limited running time means that these guys don’t get developed beyond basic stereotypes.

We can also include Shang’s musical number – ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You’ – is one of the best songs in Disney history. It’s upbeat, inspiring and surprisingly takes lyrics from ‘The Art of War’ by Sun Zi. This song, and ‘Reflection’ are good tracks, but this is one of the few films from the Renaissance that doesn’t have an instantly memorable soundtrack.

Now there are some issues to be had with the film. The first that comes to mind is Mushu, the tiny red dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy who becomes the comedic relief and cheerleader for Mulan’s mission. It’s impossible to sympathise with his motives as they’re entirely selfish and overall it feels like a forced attempt to replicate the success of the Genie in Aladdin. You’ve got the modern comedian given the chance to perform improve and plenty of pop culture references. No offence to Eddie Murphy, but he’s certainly not on the top of his game here and feels like he’s playing himself rather than imbuing a unique character with his humour.

Overall the movie moves along with starts and lurches. An unreasonable about the story gets compressed down to training and marching montages, so Mulan only encounters the antagonist late in the piece and generally feels disconnected from the main conflict. As much as we like the individual pieces of the puzzle the overall picture is a tad bland.

Best Song: ‘I’ll Make A Man Out of You’ was once named out favourite manly Disney song with good reason. It’s still immensely fun.

Weirdest Trivia: Lea Salonga provides the singing voice for Mulan, and this isn’t her first time contributing to a Disney Princess. She’s also the singing voice for Jasmine.

Rating: SIX out of TEN

THE RANKING

ME

Although this isn’t one of the strongest offerings from the Disney Renaissance, just being part of that period in animation history makes it note-worthy. As expected it lands about halfway down my list.

You can click on those titles below if you want to see what we said about those films.

  1. Robin Hood
  2. Aladdin
  3. Big Hero 6
  4. Tangled
  5. The Sword in the Stone
  6. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  7. Mulan
  8. Emperor’s New Groove
  9. Fantasia
  10. The Three Caballeros
  11. The Princess and the Frog
  12. The Aristocats
  13. A Goofy Movie
  14. Treasure Planet
  15. Chicken Little

AMELIA

It’s little wonder than Amelia was a fan of Mulan. Being an avid reader of The Princess in Black and Squirrel Girl, she has a soft spot for action heroes who challenge the tough woman stereotype. The first entry into her top 5 that isn’t there for the comedy.

  1. Emperor’s New Groove
  2. The Three Caballeros
  3. Mulan
  4. A Goofy Movie
  5. Tangled
  6. The Princess and the Frog
  7. Robin Hood
  8. The Aristocats
  9. The Sword in the Stone
  10. Aladdin
  11. Treasure Planet
  12. Big Hero 6
  13. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  14. Chicken Little
  15. Fantasia

JOSHUA

Joshua also enjoyed Mulan, but we got the distinct impression that he didn’t feel like it was especially catered towards him. Having some action and a goofy dragon helped through.

  1. Big Hero 6
  2. Aladdin
  3. Emperor’s New Groove
  4. Treasure Planet
  5. The Three Caballeros
  6. Mulan
  7. The Princess and the Frog
  8. Robin Hood
  9. The Sword in the Stone
  10. Tangled
  11. A Goofy Movie
  12. The Aristocats
  13. Fantasia
  14. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  15. Chicken Little