Reviews since 1993: A-E F-N O-Z Posters Who We Are and Why We Do What We Do Search the Site
Now in Release
DISNEY PIXAR DVDs
IN SHORT: Very enjoyable
It's summertime, which means it's time for the annual Disney animated feature, this one based on a Chinese legend and called Mulan, after its title character. Cranky has been griping for four years now (and maybe someone finally realized) that most animated movies are overstuffed with songs. Mulan, holds itself back to a more than manageable three (plus a song at the open and closing credits make the grand total five). This means the writers, and there are lots of 'em, have the time to stuff the flick full of gags. Both the young and the old at the preview Cranky attended were laughing steadily throughout most of the ninety minutes run.
Almost in the tradition of other Disney tales such as Pocahontas and Aladdin, a downtrodden heroine saves the day and overcomes great Evil. Mulan is the story of a young Chinese girl who impersonates a boy to save her father from certain death and her country from a beastly Hun invasion force. For a movie whose central story is about war, it is remarkably free of onscreen violence and almost heavy handed in explaining Eastern cultural concepts such as "honor." The animation art is not as detailed as the past few Disney animated movies and the story is simpler. The gags are better and the songs, written by Matthew Wilder and David Zippel, didn't bother Cranky at all -- there's something about crossdressing characters singing to a military cadence that just tickles me no end.
In response to the building of the Great Wall, the Hun Army, led by Shan-Yu (voiced by Miguel Ferrer) invades China. In a small village Mulan (Ming-Na Wen; singing voice by Lea Salonga -- Jasmine in Aladdin), the daughter of Fa Shou (Soon-Tek Oh), has dishonored her family by proving herself unfit for marriage, along traditional Chinese lines. A conscription call from the Emperor (Pat Morita) means that the disabled father will most likely die in the coming war. To save her father, and in part to prove that she is equal to any man, Mulan steals his armor and takes her father's place in the Army. As the armies of the Hun and the Chinese clash, there's a force of nature which saves the day, brought about by the quick thinking of the girl who would be a boy. Mulan is aided by the Spirits of her Ancestors (prime voice by George Takei), in the form a dragon named Mushu (Eddie Murphy). For good luck, there's a chirping cricket named Lik-Kee (June Foray) and an obvious, if difficult, love story involving the commanding officer Captain Shang (B.D. Wong; sung by Donnie Osmond). The use of computer animation is restrained. There is the usual compliment of gag supporting characters besides the ones already mentioned, with voicework by the legendary Frank Welker and equally gravelly voiced Harvey Fierstein.
The littlest of the kidlets walked out of Mulan absolutely bursting with glee. Their parents, and a good number of the grownups, were just as happy.
Unlike previous Disney features, which have worked very hard to generate "star" (and therefore merchandisable) anthropomorphic characters, Mulan is remarkably balanced. Only Eddie Murphy's dragon is cartoonish. Lik-Kee the cricket never speaks, which makes June Foray's (who voiced Rocky the Flying Squirrel) performance all the more remarkable. Perhaps the Disney animators were respecting the legendary Jiminy. Perhaps they were striving for a more adult feature. Cranky doesn't know.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Mulan, he would have paid . . .
Mulan sits somewhere above the mid-levels of the new Generation of Disney flicks. It is more serious than Hercules and Aladdin, but not as visually ornate as The Lion King or The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Animation head that I am, my personal preference is for really complicated and detailed animation art. Mulan goes a much simpler route and makes up for it with an inordinate amount of visual gags. I'll say it once again, less music is better.
The littlest kidlets
will have a ball. The rest of us had a pretty good time, too. (I know
of one adult who didn't like the preview of Mulan, but I'll take
that up with her later . . .)
The Cranky Critic® is a Registered Trademark of, and his website is Copyright © 1995 - 2015 by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, ™ their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award™(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.