Personal Overview: I confess that I had virtually no knowledge of Mulan before the film. I never got around to seeing it at the cinema, but caught it on TV later on. I quite liked it at the time. It was a brave decision by Disney to use a non Western legend, but one I think they should be applauded for.
Although it’s a well known legend, it follows a familiar story. A young woman who refuses to conform to traditional lifestyle tries to protect her family and has to masquerade as male soldier. She is eventually outed and by this stage has fallen in love with her handsome commander. It ends happily with the two having each other and the country being saved from the invading Huns.
Until seeing the film I was actually unaware that the Huns were in fact an Asian tribe, not a Germanic people.
There’s not a lot to the film, but Fa Mulan has become quite a role model for girls in general and it’s probably why she wound up joining the Princess line, although technically she’s not a Princess, unless Li Shang has somehow been turned into a Prince along the line.
Mulan’s refusal to accept tradition and efforts to protect her family aside, the star of the film was her sidekick; the fun size dragon Mushu, voiced by comedian Eddie Murphy. Murphy was already popular when the film was made, but I wouldn’t be surprised if his performance as Mushu had a lot to do with him being cast as Donkey in the Shrek films. The two would get along famously.
Hero/es: there’s a veritable pantheon. Mulan herself, Li Shang is the typical hero, looks, voice, deed. I think you can mount a case for Mulan’s army buddies, at least the three that get speaking roles as heroes (one of whom kept reminding me of a character from Leon Uris' book Battlecry). Of course Mushu and his sidekick the cricket Cri-Kee (yes the sidekick had a sidekick in Mulan) are also heroic in their own bumbling and hilarious ways.
Villains: the invading Hun commander, the menacing Shan Yu, who rather resembled a demon complete with glowing eyes is the main villain in this, although I felt the ambitious and officious Chi Fu hidebound by tradition and always trying to undermine Li Shang for his own ends could have also been a secondary villain.
Animation: after trying something, and kind of failing in Hercules, I was a little disappointed that they didn’t keep it up, although not surprised. Again it’s adequate and I was happy that they didn’t try to over westernize Mulan, which was something that they copped some flak for with Pocahontas. Mushu looks cool and the explosions in this with fireworks started to look more like real explosions than drawn ones.
Final Words: there’s really two things that this one is remembered for: Mushu, and he is a hoot, probably the most fun since Robin Williams’ Genie in Aladdin, and Mulan herself. They can’t really market Mulan the way they can other Princesses, but she’s still quite popular among the girls, largely because she’s not what is generally considered traditional. It was an admirable attempt to break away from the company’s staple and it was a successful one.