Plot: Mulan is a young, beautiful woman, in a time and place where young, beautiful women are to be seen and not heard. The trouble for Mulan is that she is so smart and adventurous, that she often gets into trouble just for being herself, as she is going against tradition. She is respectful and noble, but she is also a tom boy and her family’s only child. When the Emperor requires one male from each family to serve in battle, Mulan’s family has no choice but to send the aging father into battle. But to protect her father from the battlefield, Mulan assumes the persona of a male and takes her father’s place in the war. After her family asks their ancestors to look after Mulan in the war, the ancestors have a meeting of the minds, and decide the best way of protecting young Mulan. And just what is the best way? They think the great stone dragon is, but wise cracking Mushu, a small red dragon decides he is the best protection for Mulan, and fools the ancestors, getting the job. Can Mulan prove tradition isn’t always right and survive the battles ahead?
Entertainment Value: This movie delivers all the usual Disney elements, but ramps up the adventure and scope, not to mention the presence of one of the more unusual and memorable princesses. Mulan also has more drama and more sense of scale than most Disney movies, so it has an epic feel and a little more depth, which helps it stand out from its peers. The more serious tone allows for more character development and helps build the cultural elements in Mulan, which are crucial to the movie’s emotional beats and by turn, I think those moments are quite genuine. There is still ample humor, often from Eddie Murphy’s comic relief, but the expanded focus on dramatic elements works wonders for the atmosphere and narrative. I think most Disney movies have appeal beyond the young audiences they target, but Mulan is one that goes the extra mile to entertain viewers of all ages. The pace remains brisk despite the higher than normal exposition involved, but I have to admit that I didn’t love all of the musical numbers, as some felt rather flat. I think perhaps the more dramatic tone and presence of war made some of the songs feel unneeded. Even so, Mulan is a terrific movie that delivers some fresh twists on the tried and true Disney formula.
The animation of Mulan is remarkable as well, with a style that feels unique among the Disney lineup, but also retains threads of connection with its peers. The visuals here seem more stylized in some ways, making use of the cultural elements involved to add that uniqueness. In other words, the culture behind Mulan isn’t just used as a backdrop, but is palpable through the movie, especially when it comes to the animation and visual design. The movie has some sweeping set pieces and kinetic action scenes, so the visuals really shine here and can be a feast for the eyes. On the voice work side, Mulan took an interesting risk in Eddie Murphy for the comic relief, as he really goes for broke in a manic performance. He could have easily grated or gone too over the top, but the humor works for the most part and given the more dramatic tone of the picture, that comic relief is needed. His performance feels similar to his later turn in Shrek, just dialed down a little at times. The cast also includes Ming-Na Win, George Takei, Pat Morita, Miguel Ferrer, James Hong, and B.D. Wong.