It is night on the Great Wall of China. A lone soldier is on patrol when his helmet is knocked off by a menacing-looking falcon. The falcon cries out and a series of grappling hooks appear over the edge of the wall. The terrified soldier runs to the nearest tower to light a fire signal, narrowly escaping two Hun warriors. At the top of the tower he is faced by their leader, Shan Yu Miguel Ferrer
, who expresses delight when the soldier lights the signal, saying, "Now all of China knows youre here."
Shan Yu's triumph over the Great Wall is brought to the attention of the Emperor of China Pat Morita
who tells General Li James Shigeta
to mobilize an army to protect the people of China.
Meanwhile, young farm girl Fa Mulan Ming-Na Wen
, is seen in her room writing cheat notes on her arm in preparation for her visit to the matchmaker Miriam Margolyes
that morning, where she may be assigned a suitable husband. Already late, she rushes through her morning chores (with help from her dog Little Brother Chris Sanders
) before greeting her father, Fa Zhou Soon-Tek Oh
, at the family temple with his morning medicine. He tells her that the family is counting on her to uphold family tradition and prays for her success as she leaves. Mulan hurries into town where her mother Freda Foh Shen
and grandmother June Foray
have been waiting for her. Mulan is quickly bathed and dressed with makeup applied to her face while her mother and grandmother encourage her and give her gifts to inspire luck, including a flower hair comb and a caged cricket. However, when Mulan faces the matchmaker, who has nothing but disapproving comments, everything seems to go wrong. The matchmaker, suspicious of Mulan's near perfect recital of wifely duties, grabs hold of Mulan's arm, leading her into the other room to pour tea, and rubs her face, subsequently smearing the wet ink from Mulan's arm all over it.
Cri-Kee, the lucky cricket, escapes his cage and causes a chain reaction causing Mulan's expulsion from the studio. The enraged matchmaker yells that Mulan may look like a bride but she will never bring her family honor.
Dejected, Mulan returns home and contemplates who she really is and resigns to the fact that she may never be the daughter her family always wanted. However, her father gives encouraging words, stating that a cherry blossom yet to bloom may become the rarest and most beautiful of all. At that moment, drums sound the approach of the Emperors counsel, Chi Fu James Hong
who hands out conscription notices to each family demanding the most able male member to report to camp the following morning to train for war against the Huns. Mulan's father, already a veteran, walks forward to accept his notice and scorns Mulan when she tries to stop him. That night he practices in his study with his sword but a past injury to his leg proves that he may not be fit enough to enter battle again. Mulan fears for his life and angrily confronts him of this fact at the dinner table. Fa Zhou retorts that he knows his place and that Mulan should learn hers.
Crushed, Mulan runs out into the rain and, after a moment, comes up with a plan to take her father's place in the army. She steals her father's armor and conscription and leaves behind her flower hair comb before riding out into the night. Upon discovering that Mulan has left, grandmother Fa says a prayer to the ancestors to watch over her. Awakened by the prayer, the Fa family ancestors delegate between each other about what should be done with Mulan. Mushu Eddie Murphy
, an ex-guardian who's been demoted in rank to gong-ringer, is commanded by the first ancestor George Takei
to awaken the great stone dragon so that he can fetch Mulan and bring her home. But Mushu's history of destructive tendencies reduces the stone dragon to rubble. Mushu is then met by Cri-Kee whos advice for Mushu to retrieve Mulan himself is misinterpreted as helping Mulan become a war hero, ensuring Mushu's reacceptance into the temple and his reinstatement as a guardian.
Meanwhile, Shan Yu's army is riding fast across the China landscape towards the Imperial City. They come across two imperial scouts and release them to deliver a warning to the Emperor. But Shan Yu's generosity is short-lived and hints to his archer to get rid of one of the scouts.
Mulan has by now reached the outskirts of the army recruitment camp and is deliberating with her horse, Khan, how to act once she arrives. She is interrupted by the appearance of Mushu and Cri-Kee. Mushu tells Mulan he was sent by her ancestors to help her enroll in the army. Following his advice she enters the camp only to stir up some trouble with three fellow soldiers, Yao Harvey Fierstein
, Chien-Po Jerry Tondo
, and Ling Gedde Watanabe
, causing a general ruckus among the recruits. Mulan is confronted by Captain Li Shang BD Wong
, and Chi Fu and introduces herself as Fa Zhou's long-lost son, Ping. Shang, who was left in charge by his father General Li, proves to be a tough but inspiring teacher and puts the recruits through rigorous training, through most of which Mulan falters. She finally gains confidence and the respect of her fellow soldiers when she is able to scale a tall wooden pole to reach an arrow embedded at the top using two weighted discs slung together. Soon, with training, even she surpasses most of her fellow male soldiers in skill.
Shan Yu, ever closer to his goal, discovers a pass in the mountains which is the most direct route to the Imperial City. His falcon delivers to him a doll from a local village that contains bits of horse hair and the smell of sulfur. He and his soldiers determine that the imperial army is guarding the village within the pass. However, he is undeterred and continues on, stating that they should return the doll to its owner.
Back at camp, Mulan decides to throw caution to the wind and bathes in a small creek. Yao, Chien-Po, and Ling appear soon after and, though they are apologetic for giving her a hard time, nearly discover Mulan's secret until Mushu scares them off (Ling mistakes him for a snake). Despite the fact that the soldiers have completed training, Chi Fu is skeptical of their skills and berates Shang's ability as captain. Mulan sympathizes with Shang and tells him that she thinks hes a great captain, to which Mushu accuses her of having feelings towards him. Having worked too hard to get Mulan where she is, Mushu tricks Chi Fu with a fake letter from General Li requesting the troops at the front line. The troops leave the following morning, daydreaming along the way about girls worth fighting for.
They soon arrive at a village in the mountains but find it completely destroyed with nothing but burned remains of houses. As they search for survivors, Chi Fu comes across whats left of the imperial army, killed by Shan Yu's forces. Chien-Po presents Shang with his father's helmet. Heartbroken, Shang takes his sword and sticks it into the snow, leaving his father's helmet resting on the hilt. Despite his father's death, Shang is motivated by his duty as a soldier and announces that they must travel through the mountains to the Imperial City to protect the Emperor. Mulan, who had found the very doll Shan Yu used to discover the location of the imperial army, rests the doll against Shang's sword. As they travel through the pass, Mushu accidentally sets off a cannon from the cart hes hiding in, giving away the armys position. Hidden Hun archers release an arrow storm with flaming arrows upon the soldiers, setting fire to the cannon cart. The soldiers manage to save most of the cannons before the cart explodes and seek shelter on a rocky outcropping. They quickly take care of the archers using the cannons but, as the smoke clears, they see Shan Yu himself on horseback atop the far ridge. The rest of his forces appear behind him, an intimidating solid black line on the top of the hill, and, with Shan Yu's war cry, begin charging towards Shang's army. Shang instructs Yao to aim the last cannon at Shan Yu who is charging ahead, but Mulan grabs the cannon out of Yao's hand and runs towards the charging Huns, followed by Shang who commands her to come back. She drives it into the snow and aims it at a snowy peak. Then, as Shan Yu charges up to her, she uses Mushu to ignite the cannon. Mushu, shocked that Mulan missed a target three feet in front of her, rides the cannon towards the peak where the cannon explodes, causing an avalanche that crushes Shan Yu's army and rushes down the hillside.
Enraged, Shan Yu lashes out at Mulan with his sword who quickly runs away as the avalanche draws closer. Shan Yu and his entire army are engulfed in the wave of snow. Shang, stunned in awe, is grabbed by Mulan and the two of them are rescued by Khan, though Shang is knocked unconscious. Mushu catches up to them, having ridden along the avalanche on a Hun shield. The rest of Shang's army hides behind a large rock at the edge of a cliff as the avalanche flows past. Yao shoots an arrow attached to a rope towards them but fails to tie it off first. However, the arrow reaches Mulan and she ties the end of it to Khan's saddle. She shoots it towards the edge of the cliff as they fall over the rim. Yao catches the arrow and, aided by the others, manages to pull Mulan and Shang to safety. Shang thanks Mulan for saving them, but her injuries from Shan Yu's sword catch up to her and she collapses. At the medical tent, the doctor finds out and relays the secret to Shang that Mulan is, in fact, a woman. Chi Fu reminds Shang that the punishment for impersonation of a soldier is death but Shang lays his sword down, saying that his debt is repaid; since Mulan saved his life, hes returned the favor by sparing hers.
The army moves on towards the Imperial City, leaving Mulan behind. She laments over her decision to enter the army and labels herself a nobody. Mushu tries to comfort her by admitting that he was never sent by her ancestors and only tried to help Mulan for his own selfish needs; that at least Mulan lied to help her father. Cri-Kee breaks down and admits to Mushu that he lied about being lucky. Mushu, exasperated, accuses Khan of being a sheep.
Mulan contemplates going home before she hears an angry cry. Shan Yu has survived the avalanche, along with five of his soldiers. Horrified, Mulan decides to ride to the Imperial City to warn Shang and the others.
Within the city, Shang and his army are welcomed as heroes and march in a parade towards the palace. Mulan catches up to Shang and tries to warn him of Shan Yu's presence in the city, but he doesnt believe her. Mulan warns the others to keep their eyes open and rides off to find someone who will listen to her. As the Emperor congratulates Shang on his defeat of the Hun army, Shan Yu appears on one of the palace towers and signals to his men who had been hiding in a large parade dragon. They knock Shang down and kidnap the Emperor, locking themselves within the palace. Mulan devises a plan to infiltrate the palace along with Shang, Chien-Po, Yao, and Ling, the latter three disguised as concubines. The Emperor is brought onto a balcony before Shan Yu who demands him to bow at his feet while a few of his men guard the lower door. Mulan, Chien-Po, Ling, and Yao seduce these men, who drop their guard, before attacking them, allowing Shang to run up to the balcony and engage Shan Yu in battle. As Shang and Shan Yu fight, Chien-Po grabs the Emperor and escapes by sliding down a rope adorned with lanterns. Yao and Ling follow but Shang is knocked out, so Mulan cuts the line so Shan Yu cant follow. Enraged, Shan Yu blames Shang for taking away his victory. Mulan shouts to Shan Yu that it was she who took his victory and pulls her hair back, revealing her identity as the soldier from the mountains. Shan Yu recognizes her and gives chase. Mulan manages to make it to the roof of the palace while Mushu seizes a tower full of fireworks. Shan Yu follows Mulan to the roof and corners her. As he strikes at her with his sword, she uses a fan to disarm him and shouts a command to Mushu at the far end of the roof who reveals to be carrying a large rocket on his back. Cri-Kee lights the rocket and Mulan uses Shan Yu's sword to pin him to the roof. As the rocket hits Shan Yu, Mulan grabs Mushu and jumps off the roof as Shan Yu is hurtled into a fireworks tower which explodes in a colorful display. Mulan grabs hold of a lantern and slides towards the palace steps. She lets go and falls right onto Shang as hes leaving the palace. Mushu lands laughing and catches Cri-Kee, commenting that he is one lucky bug.
An incensed Chi Fu emerges smoldering from the palace, demanding that Mulan face the consequences of her actions. Shang stands up for her and argues with Chi Fu until the Emperor emerges and faces a humbled Mulan. He relays how he knows she ran away from home and impersonated a soldier and that, despite her seemingly treasonous actions, she has saved all of China from the Hun threat. To the shock of Mulan, the Emperor bows to her, along with hundreds of people within the crowd. A teary-eyed Mushu asks Cri-Kee for a tissue. The Emperor offers Mulan Chi Fu's job within his counsel but Mulan respectfully wishes nothing more than to go home. So the Emperor gives her his Imperial crest and the sword of Shan Yu. Mulan hugs the Emperor, inciting Yao to ask if she's allowed to do that. She greets Shang before leaving who awkwardly says that she fights good. The Emperor cites a proverb to Shang who doesnt understand upon which the Emperor says in Laymans terms, "You dont meet a girl like that every dynasty." Back home, Mulan presents her father with the gifts from the Emperor in hopes that they will bring honor to their family. Fa Zhou drops the gifts and hugs his daughter, saying that the only honor is having Mulan for a daughter. Mulan's grandmother, however, is unimpressed until Shang appears asking to see Mulan. Grandmother Fa asks to sign up for the next war. An awkward Shang approaches Mulan and her father, presenting Fa Zhou's helmet that Mulan left behind. Mulan invites Shang to stay for dinner, which he accepts.
Meanwhile, Mushu has returned to the family temple and the disgruntled head ancestor agrees to reinstate him as a guardian. Mushu and the other ancestors celebrate and Mulan thanks Mushu for everything he's done for her just as Mulan's dog chases a flock of chickens into the temple.