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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

Week # 49: "Mulan"

(Originally published on 12/6/22)



Run time: 88 min.

Release Date: June 19, 1998

Where/when I first saw it: In the theater, maybe opening weekend at Rolling Meadows Theater. Sounds about right.

How I watched it today: Disney+, Monday afternoon

At first glance, it would appear that “Mulan” was poised to be yet another in the ‘90s Disney tradition of the young heroine dreaming of a better, more meaningful life than being a servant. It certainly sets itself up that way. We have the big musical number suggesting as much and, even though we have new songwriters this time (Menkin finally gets a break), it still feels like a bit of the usual, made only interesting by the more angular animation style and the fact that it’s the first Asian Disney heroine amd setting. Then, we also have to get over the Disney-fication of another culture, which has been a notorious problem for the studio in the past, as we all know. Will there be enough quality writing and storytelling to get over these drawbacks?

Thankfully, yes. Once our heroine cuts her hair and joins the army to save her ailing father from having to fight against the Huns, “Mulan” becomes a more progressive-than-usual, very funny, fast-paced action film that goes against the grain in many ways. The new songwriters brought on board here (Paul Bogaev, Matthew Wilder and David Zippell) have created a few stand-out numbers (“I’ll Make A Man Out of You” and “Reflection” in particular) that stand alongside the best musical numbers from this period. And this character is worth rooting for. It helps that she’s aided by Eddie Murphy as the dragon Mushu, basically in the Robin Williams role, and creating a character just as memorable. His brand of quick wit and fast delivery seems like an odd touch for a Chinese folktale, but somehow, it works.

It must also be said that the first Disney film to directly address war (at least since “Victory Through Air Power” and everything else from the WWII period) also has one helluva battle scene. The computer technology at work here creates some of the most stunning vista shots of soldiers running into battle that was a true eye-opener in 1998. This three-part action sequence remains one of their best.

It also helps that “Mulan” is scaled down to a very tight 88 minutes. There are so many complications within this storyline that could have dragged the film out even longer, but, thankfully, the film never wears out its welcome and always moves at a brisk pace. This seemed like a bit of a comeback in a way for the studio during this time (“Toy Story” notwithstanding, since that was more of a Pixar success). The strongest elements of the film fell into play, whereas the features between this and “The Lion King” had trouble finding a right identity. “Mulan” holds up well.


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