Kick Some Hun-ny Buns
Mulan is directed by Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft and is based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan. The film's voice cast stars Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy, B. D. Wong, Miguel Ferrer, and June Foray.
Released near the end of the Disney Renaissance, Mulan is another fine example of Disney's powers with effectively showing us lifestyles and behaviors of the world's many cultures. Aladdin had an Arabian style, Pocahontas tackled a fictionalized version of English and Native Americans, and Hercules was a loose take on Greek mythology. In the case of Mulan, it's a depiction of China during the Han dynasty, in which ideas of honor, family values, and gender roles are explored and analyzed.
Mulan also deals with warfare, which would give it the potential to be one of the darkest and one of the most serious entries in the Disney library. Ah, but this is Disney, so much of the violence is sanitized and watered down to the point that the film can safely garner a G rating. Of course, it is rather interesting to mention that the movie almost got a PG rating simply because it mentions the term "cross-dresser", even though cross-dressing is something that some characters do and is important to the plot.
The main cross dressing character is, as you may guess, Mulan, a tomboy living during the Han dynasty and being trained in the ways of being a proper lady. One night, the Huns, led by the ruthless Shan Yu (Miguel Ferrer), breach the Great Wall and begin an invasion of Han China. The Chinese Emperor (Pat Morita) orders for the drafting of one man from each family into the Chinese army. Mulan's father, Zhou (Soon-Tek Oh), is selected from her family to join the army, but Mulan fears for her father's life, knowing his health is declining. Mulan then decides to take her father's place, taking his armor and disguising herself as a man among all of the other army applicants. Mulan's spiritual ancestors decide to send the "Great Stone Dragon" in order to protect her, but this plan is foiled by the small red dragon Mushu (Eddie Murphy), who tricks the ancestors and sets out to protect Mulan himself.
- The time and effort that the artistic supervisors and animators put in to making sure Mulan looks as culturally respectable as possible is on full display. Clothing, backgrounds, buildings, all of it shows a successful type of craft that will have you impressed by the fact that this was Western animators working on this project. Producer designer Hans Bacher turned the style back into a simpler watercolor design, taking a lighter approach on the details as opposed to the likes of The Lion King and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and that would seem very hard to believe because of how nothing is left to chance in the production design.
- Mulan's more serious-minded story would reasonably lend itself to having a minimal amount of comedy, but the exact opposite turns out to be true. I dare to call the movie one of the funniest of the Disney Renaissance. The so-obvious-it-hurts comic relief of the film is the Eddie Murphy-voiced Mushu, and I am surely in the minority when I say that I found him to be not the least bit annoying, even with Murphy doing a lot of his usual yelping. I find Murphy to be able to get away with yelping/squawking and somehow keep it funny (something that Kevin Hart can never seem to do), because he just has the talent to do so. The other character in this movie who never ceases to provide a laugh is Mulan's grandmother (June Foray), whose sassy attitude isn't present enough, only coming in small chunks at the beginning and near the end of the film.
- I can't say I was disappointed or remotely upset with anything that happened in Mulan, except maybe the fact that it isn't all that subtle with its adult humor. There's a scene in which Mulan tries to bathe in a pool of water by herself, but she's soon accompanied by three of her male cohorts, and you can take a solid guess as to what this means for her. The only other thing I'll mention is that there's a moment in which one of the naked men stands on top of a rock, and Mulan stares at his you-know-what, looking freaked out while she's staring. I could never tell if this entire scene was supposed to be funny. I was more so thinking it would lead to kids asking their parents, "Mommy, what was Mulan looking at?"
And that's really all I got on Mulan. It's pretty great stuff with plenty of Chinese style action, lovely Chinese visuals, and an under-rated dosage of humor. One of the better films in the Disney library and a lovely gem for people of all ages.
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