Mulan (1998)

reviewed by
Steve Rhodes

A film review by Steve Rhodes
Copyright 1998 Steve Rhodes
RATING (0 TO ****):  ***

MULAN, which we saw being developed in Disney's Florida studios, is the first Disney animated movie produced on the East Coast. The animators we talked with said that they relished the creative freedom that being so far removed from corporate headquarters afforded them. And, as in any skunkworks, the workers used their independence to build the product they most wanted - forget those suits back at headquarters. The impressive result, although not as spectacular as some of Disney's recent offerings, bodes well for this isolated, creative team.

Filmed in medium blues with warm rose accents, the animation is handsome albeit not up to standards of THE LION KING. Best in the crowd sequences, the movie has a most awe-inspiring visual of an attacking horde of Huns, with hundreds of bluish-gray men charging over a snow-covered landscape. Although the film's images are sumptuous, its songs are all eminently forgettable.

Opening with a reluctant and unconfident Mulan fixed up with pancake make-up to look like a porcelain doll, the story has her off to audition to be a bride. (Mulan is voiced by Ming-Na Wen, last seen as the take-charge, sexy wife in ONE NIGHT STAND.) Mulan fails miserably even with a cheat sheet of the right answers written on her arm. She finds her calling in life when she goes undercover in a male warrior suit to take the place of her injured father in the Emperor's campaign against the Hun invasion. Huns, we find, look strikingly similar to Klingon warriors.

For help, Mulan's ghostly and bickering ancestors unwittingly send along a smart-mouthed, tiny dragon, which Mulan calls a little lizard. Eddie Murphy, who mumbles too many of his lines, plays the dragon, Mushu. A non-speaking, good-luck cricket, Cri-Kee, is Mushu's sidekick. The energetic Murphy tries to be Robin Williams, but Murphy's lines aren't anywhere near ALADDIN quality.

When Mulan arrives at the Emperor's boot camp, run by a Lyle Lovett lookalike, she finds it full of snaggletoothed, male buffoons. The recruits try to out macho each other with lines like, "I'm going to hit you so hard it will make your ancestors dizzy." She tries without much success to be a masculine toughie by spitting and doing other guy stuff.

Mushu is not impressed with her initial progress. "Oh, I think my bunny slippers just ran for cover," he mocks her after her first attempts at fighting like a soldier. With shades of G. I. JANE, Mulan soon goes from being a walking disaster to being the star pupil.

Mulan doesn't reject her feminine side. "Just because I look like a man doesn't mean I have to smell like one," she says before skinny-dipping in the closest stream. To her consternation, her fellow troops decide to join her in a scene both funny and sexual, even if not exactly the shower scene from STARSHIP TROOPERS.

The film's message is easily seen in the big Hun battle. When faced with overwhelming odds, the Emperor's men plan on dying with honor. Mulan, on the other hand, devises a winning strategy that allows the other side to perish in glory instead.

     MULAN runs 1:38.  It is rated G and would be fine for all ages.

My son Jeffrey, age 9, gave the film ***. His favorite line was the father's "the greatest gift and honor is having you as a daughter." He thought the dragon was really funny and the film's ending especially good. His buddy, Nickolas, age 9, gave the picture ** . He liked the way Mulan always thought of new ideas, but he thought parts of the story dragged.

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