Overview: During an impending Hun invasion in China, a young maiden secretly takes her father’s place in the army. 1998; Buena Vista Pictures; G; 87 minutes
Disney’s Heroine: Mulan breaks away from the Disney norm by showcasing a strong female character doing most of the heavy lifting, setting her apart from most Disney princesses. She really isn’t interested in finding true love or chasing her dreams. Heck, the only reason she attends a matchmaker at the start of the movie is to make her family happy by bringing them honor. She’s a compelling and complicated character because of her inner conflicts of honor and identity.
Disney breaks down the gender barrier here. Mulan, spurred by love and compassion for others, actually goes out to make a difference, and it’s her intelligence and strength that saves the day. She’s more defined by the things she accomplishes than her desires, and that makes her one of the best characters Disney has ever produced.
Family Tradition: Several recognizable Disney staples are seamlessly woven into the film, such as the use of an animal sidekick. In Mulan, Eddie Murphy is a stand out as Mushu. He provides entertaining comic relief, but his character has a surprising story arc of his own that runs parallel to Mulan’s. Disney put extra care in handling supporting characters whom viewers would normally dismiss as stereotypes. They do away with the fantastical villain to give us a simplified, cruel and menacing one. Shang, the sort-of love interest, takes the back seat as Mulan steps up as the hero. Shang and Mulan’s relationship grows organically too, placing emphasis on Mulan’s journey rather than the typical girl-gets-guy Disney formula audiences are used to (they don’t even kiss at the end, they really only agree to have dinner). Directors Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook remain true to the Disney form, but I love how they flipped it on its head in a way that works and feels more natural.
Music Reflection: What would be a Disney movie without a few musical numbers? The soundtrack is composed of “Honor to Us All”, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”, “A Girl Worth Fighting For”, and “Reflection”. The first three songs work well to get you locked in to the time period and culture, particularly the view and treatment of women at that time. “Reflection”, on the other hand, comes early in the movie and opens up Mulan as a character. It gives an idea of her motivations and gets viewers invested in her. “Reflection” is, hands down, one of the best Disney songs.
Overall: With a caring and delicate handling of characters, Mulan offers up Disney’s best female lead to date. A visually stunning and emotionally investing animation, it’s a Disney classic that won’t be forgotten.