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"I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass
...and I'm all out of bubblegum."
“You don’t met a girl like that every dynasty.”

This era had some great heroines, but when the big actions finales came about they were either in need of rescuing or stood on the sidelines while the male heroes saved the day. At a time when Buffy and Xena were conquering the world, that is just unacceptable.

Enter Fa Mulan.

Voiced by the always awesome and seemingly ageless Ming-Na Wen, Mulan was the first Disney animated heroine who was allowed to be a genuine action hero and not a damsel in distress (that’s Li Shang’s job). She is the one who saves the day and defeats the main villain, not the film's handsome male lead. He's rather useless and spends most of the film's big battles unconscious. Oh, and those battles are pretty spectacular. The charge of the Hun, and the subsequent avalanche (nice one, Mulan), is the most spectacular sequence in a Disney film since the wildebeest stampede in The Lion King.

Mulan was the first Disney animated heroine whose entire story isn't dependent on her falling in love. Mulan has a lot of the qualities we associate with the heroines of this era. She's a free spirit who just wants to be herself and not follow a path someone else has laid out for her. Mulan is on a journey of self-discovery throughout this film and it is refreshing that that journey doesn't end at the wedding altar. She's got to save China and bring honour to her family, she has no time for love. Yeah, there are hints of a romance with Li Shang at the end, but it is not the driving force of the narrative. Hell, it's barely even sub-plot.

"What's the matter? Never seen a black-and-white before?"
Because this is Disney, Mulan needs some comedy sidekicks to accompany her on her cross-dressing escapades. Enter mini-dragon Mushu, voiced by Eddie Murphy. Mushu is kind of like a dry run for Murphy's role as Donkey in the Shrek movies. They are very similar in many ways, but I prefer Mushu, and not just because I can't stand any of the Shrek movies. Donkey is just a wisecracking sidekick, Mushu has a little more depth to him and an actual character arc. Plus, he impersonates Batman. I will always love a character more if they impersonate Batman.

The film's score was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, one of the true masters of film music. This isn't one of Goldsmith's best scores (much of it sounds recycled from his Star Trek scores), but even by the numbers Goldsmith is still head and shoulders above most composers' best efforts. That said, Mulan is not the strongest Disney film in terms of songs. Sure, ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You’ is an unqualified classic that I could probably recite in full if asked to, but the rest of the soundtrack is rather vanilla. Luckily, Mulan is not a film that relies heavily on musical numbers. There are only four during the whole thing. Mulan really marks the beginning of Disney’s gradual move away from musicals.

If the film has one major flaw it is the villain, Shan Yu, leader of the Hun army invading China. He's not a bad villain, he is certainly one of Disney's most ruthless villains (although, this being a family movie, most of his horrific acts take place off screen), he just isn't as fun or interesting the other villains from this era like Ursula, Scar or Hades and Frollo.

Strength and Discipline (Both of which you'll need to reach that arrow)

--A direct-to-video sequel was released in 2004 and featured most of the original voice cast except Eddie Murphy, who was replaced by Mark Moseley.

--Mulan was first Disney film to be released on DVD.

--If I ever have my picture taken with a celebrity this is exactly what it will look like:

--The film was almost given a PG rating because it uses the phrase "cross dresser". It says something about society when that is more of an issue for the censors than seeing a field of dead soldiers:

--In the original Chinese poem, the Ballad of Mulan, Hua Mulan fought in the Chinese army for twelve years and was never discovered to be a woman until after she returned home.

--Since Disney now owns Marvel, I like to think that Melinda May is one of Mulan's descendants.

Mulan: "Just because I look like a man doesn't mean I have to smell like one."

Female Ancestor: "My children never caused such trouble. They all became acupuncturists."
Male Ancestor: "Well, we can't all be acupuncturists."
Old Female Ancestor: "No! Your great-granddaughter had to be a cross-dresser!"

Fa Li: "I should have prayed to the ancestors for luck."
Grandmother Fa: "How lucky can they be? They're dead."

Mushu: "Did you see those Huns? They popped out of the snow, like daisies!"

Mulan: "You're, um..."
Mushu: "Intimidating? Awe-inspiring?"
Mulan: "Tiny."
Mushu: "Of course. I'm travel-size for your convenience. If I was my real size, your cow here would die of fright."

Mushu: (impersonating Batman) "Citizens, I need firepower."
Citizen: "Who are you?"
Mushu: "Your worst nightmare."

The Emperor of China: "I've heard a great deal about you, Fa Mulan. You stole your father's armor, ran away from home, impersonated a soldier, deceived your commanding officer, dishonored the Chinese Army, destroyed my palace, and... you have saved us all."

Three out of four honoured ancestors.

1 comment:

  1. Mulan is definitely my favourite Disney 'Princess'...beating out Belle merely by virtue of the very thing you mentioned: her romance is not the main focus of the story. I'm a little bit tired of romances, so to see a girl of action with actual personality beyond how pretty she looks in engraved armour fighting for something she believes in that isn't a hot stud...yeah. Exactly my cup of tea!