MULAN, which we saw being developed in Disney's Florida studios,
is the first Disney animated movie produced on the East Coast. The
animators we talked with said that they relished the creative freedom
that being so far removed from corporate headquarters afforded them.
And, as in any skunkworks, the workers used their independence to build
the product they most wanted - forget those suits back at headquarters.
The impressive result, although not as spectacular as some of Disney's
recent offerings, bodes well for this isolated, creative team.
Filmed in medium blues with warm rose accents, the animation is
handsome albeit not up to standards of THE LION KING. Best in the
crowd sequences, the movie has a most awe-inspiring visual of an
attacking horde of Huns, with hundreds of bluish-gray men charging over
a snow-covered landscape. Although the film's images are sumptuous,
its songs are all eminently forgettable.
Opening with a reluctant and unconfident Mulan fixed up with
pancake make-up to look like a porcelain doll, the story has her off to
audition to be a bride. (Mulan is voiced by Ming-Na Wen, last seen as
the take-charge, sexy wife in ONE NIGHT STAND.) Mulan fails miserably
even with a cheat sheet of the right answers written on her arm. She
finds her calling in life when she goes undercover in a male warrior
suit to take the place of her injured father in the Emperor's campaign
against the Hun invasion. Huns, we find, look strikingly similar to
For help, Mulan's ghostly and bickering ancestors unwittingly send
along a smart-mouthed, tiny dragon, which Mulan calls a little lizard.
Eddie Murphy, who mumbles too many of his lines, plays the dragon,
Mushu. A non-speaking, good-luck cricket, Cri-Kee, is Mushu's
sidekick. The energetic Murphy tries to be Robin Williams, but
Murphy's lines aren't anywhere near ALADDIN quality.
When Mulan arrives at the Emperor's boot camp, run by a Lyle
Lovett lookalike, she finds it full of snaggletoothed, male buffoons.
The recruits try to out macho each other with lines like, "I'm going to
hit you so hard it will make your ancestors dizzy." She tries without
much success to be a masculine toughie by spitting and doing other guy
Mushu is not impressed with her initial progress. "Oh, I think my
bunny slippers just ran for cover," he mocks her after her first
attempts at fighting like a soldier. With shades of G. I. JANE, Mulan
soon goes from being a walking disaster to being the star pupil.
Mulan doesn't reject her feminine side. "Just because I look like
a man doesn't mean I have to smell like one," she says before
skinny-dipping in the closest stream. To her consternation, her fellow
troops decide to join her in a scene both funny and sexual, even if not
exactly the shower scene from STARSHIP TROOPERS.
The film's message is easily seen in the big Hun battle. When
faced with overwhelming odds, the Emperor's men plan on dying with
honor. Mulan, on the other hand, devises a winning strategy that
allows the other side to perish in glory instead.
MULAN runs 1:38. It is rated G and would be fine for all ages.
My son Jeffrey, age 9, gave the film ***. His favorite line was
the father's "the greatest gift and honor is having you as a daughter."
He thought the dragon was really funny and the film's ending especially
good. His buddy, Nickolas, age 9, gave the picture ** ½. He liked the
way Mulan always thought of new ideas, but he thought parts of the
Copyright © 1998 Steve Rhodes