Mulan (1998)

reviewed by
Craig Roush


Release Date: June 19, 1998 The Voices of: Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy, B.D. Wong, Harvey Fierstein, Jerry Tondo, Gedde Watanabe, James Hong Directed by: Tony Bancroft, Barry Cook Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures MPAA Rating: G URL:

The second of this year's two leading-female animated motion pictures (besides the in-the-rough QUEST FOR CAMELOT), and the third of the last three (counting 1997's ANASTASIA), MULAN was an animated picture that had, perhaps, a bit to live up to. Although those last two pictures weren't really a benchmark, they were a trend, and Disney was charged with distancing themselves from "normal" fare. Not only that, but as soon as previews and advance showings began filtering down through the ranks of the critics, MULAN was hailed as the best Disney animation since THE LION KING. And while this one isn't as enjoyable as the African epic of 1994, it is probably the best animated movie since then.

Disney's animated films have progressively become more refined from the typical children's movies - ones adults hate to see in theaters because they know the same films will infest their VCRs like parasites after release on videocasette - to complete crowd-pleasers. In addition to the easily-gotten under-12 demographic, Disney has nailed the too-cool-to-care date crowd, the Gen-Xers, and the middle-aged chaperone folks. They've done this through clever writing and a well-manicured storytelling style, all of which is very present in MULAN. From the opening scene, a rather dark and ominous one showing the Huns invading China, to the pastel-colored plates of lowland Asia, this movie is crafted very nicely. The animation quality here, although not outstandingly different from Disney's last feature, Hercules, is the up-to-snuff look we've come to expect from the original animators.

Early on it was made clear that even though MULAN sported a female in the lead role, this would be no SNOW WHITE. And indeed it's not, as the main woman here - the 18-year-old Mulan (voiced by Ming-Na Wen) - cuts her hair, puts on some battle armor, and enlists into the Imperial Army as a boy to save her ailing father from having to serve. She does this, of course, against every societal convention in place at the time, but she oes it quite well - managing to become a national hero after all but saving China from the evil-doing Huns. Along for the ride is a tiny dragon sent by Mulan's ancestors. Named Mushu and voiced by Eddie Murphy, he's the movie's main comic relief source, and for the most part he does it well. Murphy's also one of the only familiar names in the cast (apart from Harvey Fierstein, who voices a stout soilder but also played the quivering news chief in INDEPENDENCE DAY).

The lack of familiar names was spun as good for the movie, but it may cost the movie some box office dollars in comparison to PRINCE OF EGYPT, the later-this-year animated film from DreamWorks. That film sports the largest collection of big names since THE LION KING, and one of the most enjoyable aspects of that movie was hearing A-list actors do what they could with just their voices. Normally something Disney would not have to worry about, they now are - or will be soon - in direct competition with other studios' animated features. Up to this point, they've had the top call; no one's been able to challenge them. But it won't be long before the other studios pick up speed, and then Disney will need all the MULANs they can get.

FINAL AWARD FOR "MULAN": 3.0 stars - a good movie.

Craig Roush
Kinnopio's Movie Reviews

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