Directed By: Barry Cook & Tony Bancroft
Produced By: Pam Coats
Inspired By: The Tales of Hua Mulan (Ancient China)
Premiered On: June 19, 1998
Distribution By: Buena Vista Pictures
The first of three Disney animated productions to be made primarily at the animation studio located at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, or as it was known then Disney-MGM Studios, located in Orlando, Florida. While coming close to the end of the Disney Renaissance, I can assure you all right here at the beginning of this review that Mulan is well and truly one of the greats in any era of Disney Animation.
The story of the film begins long ago, roughly 200 so years BCE, in the Han Dynasty of China where the Huns, led by the ruthless Shan Yu, have invaded. The emperor commands a general mobilization of all available soldiers and, unfortunately for our titular heroine Mulan, her father is the only man in their family. Knowing that allowing him to go will mean his death, Mulan steals her father’s armor and disguises herself as a man, taking his place in the army.
Of course, being a Disney film, there’s a wee bit touch of magic and mystical hoodoo in the form of one of Mulan’s former, at the time mind you, family guardians. A small dragon named Mushu, who is by far my absolute favorite amongst all Disney sidekicks bar none and not just because he’s a dragon but then, I already made a whole review about him already, so let’s just move along shall we? Though, if I may make a note of at least one scene in particular that solidified my love for Mushu, it’d be this one right here:
Much like Hercules before her, Mulan’s original story does not truly have any one story that defines her from beginning to end. In point of fact, there have been several, slightly different renditions to Mulan’s story though the overall plot remains the same. That being her stealing her father’s armor and fighting in the army. The one major difference however between the film and the multiple variations of the story is one thing in particular. That being how long Mulan served in the army. In the film it was… I’d say at best a season, perhaps even a year but in the original story?
Mulan served in the army for over twelve years.
More to the point, she served for twelve years and gained enough prestige to earn herself an official post which she turns down much like in the film itself, but no one is made wise of her deception until she returns home and dons her old clothing before meeting her comrades.
I imagine that the look on their faces was one for the record books.
Speaking of Mulan’s deception of gender, the animators of the film did a fantastic job in creating minute but still noticeable differences in Mulan’s facial appearance throughout the film. If one were to have Mulan and her male identity of “Ping,” you’d most certainly call them twins but not identical enough for one to not immediately guess which was which.
As to the song that best describes this film as a whole… I want to say it’s the song “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” if only because of how utterly fun a song it is for what is, essentially, a montage of success but that’s not really what Mulan’s story is about no matter how great a job Jackie Chan does at singing it. No, the honor of the song that fits her and her film best is the song that she sings herself, the song aptly named as “Reflection.”
It’s far from a happy song, nor is it one that is packed with stunning visuals, but there is that one moment. Blink and you might miss it but it’s there regardless. The difference between the mask we wear on the outside to show the world and the person within trying so desperately to get out.
Overall, I give Mulan a solid ten out of five stars. An amazing story, stunning art, and a just the right amount of kid friendly silliness and adult orientated seriousness. The music pays great homage to the native lands of China and the landscapes, from the recognizable Great Wall of China to Mulan’s quaint little village, fill me to the brim with a fierce desire to go and see these places for real even if I must bend the laws of time to do so!