Disney Classics #36: Mulan

After Hercules, Disney stay with an action hero vibe with this story of a Chinese legend.

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The story follows Mulan (Ming-Na Wen), a free spirited girl who struggles with her place in a strict society where honour is highly prized. When China is threatened by a Hun horde every family is called upon to send a man to join the army. Her aging, injured father is the only male in the family, but fearing for his health Mulan steals his armour and takes his place, posing as a boy.

The family can’t go after her because to do so would be to risk exposure and the dishonour and punishment. And can only ask their ancestors to protect Mulan.

Of course, they need to add a few elements to make it more of a Disney movie, and these include giving Mulan two great sidekicks.

The first is a “lucky” cricket, given to her as a good luck charm, the second is Mushu a diminutive dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy. Mushu’s character is an interesting one as he’s acknowledged as being annoying by other characters and toes a fine line, almost tipping into irritating territory. Luckily, a fantastic script and Eddie Murphy’s dynamic performance keep him on the right side of the line. The rapid fire delivery and steady stream of wisecracks means that this is one of my favourite Murphy performances, on a par with his great work as Donkey in Shrek.

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Mushu is her guide but only because he accidentally destroyed the statue of the guardian the ancestors wanted to send. He latches onto Mulan as a way of restoring himself to glory in the ancestors’ eyes and to cover for his own mistake, and much of his advice is laughably bad.

He proves more of a hindrance than a help as she struggles to fit in with the men of the camp and her clumsiness lands her in the bad books of her commanding officer Li Shang (BD Wong). However, when she uses her wits to solve a problem he sets the men, she begins to win him over and becomes a skilled soldier.

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This transformation is, of course, shown in a montage. And what a montage! Right up there with the Rocky movies. Donny Osmond belts out an infuriatingly catchy but powerfully uplifting and motivating song in “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”, and the whole sequence is superb.

Seriously, if you are a runner or need to psych yourself up for something, stick this on your playlist. You won’t regret it. Even if it’s idea of what it takes to be a man are rather lofty:

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The music and sidekicks are very Disney, but the movie is different in other areas. Most notably, the villain and stakes at play. The villain Shan Yu (Miguel Ferrer) is quite intimidating, he has a physical presence that many Disney villains lack and his design, with hollow, dark eyes is more in keeping with a comic book villain.

He also has a cold blooded nature, and as this is set in war there is a lot of death, even if much is off screen. Mulan herself kills pretty much an entire army in an avalanche, the stand out action sequence. The action scenes in general are played rather well, with genuine peril and minimal amounts of slapstick.

Disney are often criticised for their use of old fashioned gender roles, but here we have a strong heroine. Mulan seizes control of her destiny and throughout shows courage, ingenuity and decency. She is a great character and a good role model, someone who carves her own place in the world and carries herself with determination and real heroism.

A fun, action filled adventure with solid music, great sidekicks and a simple, well told story.

Disney Score: 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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