Ranking the Disney Canon – 23: Mulan

” The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.” – The Emperor of China

Right after our first Walt Disney era feature, let’s jump back forward in time to the 1990s for today’s film, Mulan. Our first 1990s era film in the Top 25, Mulan came right after the trio of films that did not make into the Top 25, Pocahontas, Hercules, and Hunchback, and rounded out the 1990s alongside another film in the Top 25, Tarzan. Mulan was also the first of three films to be fully animated in Orlando at the then Disney-MGM Studios Park.

Mulan takes place during the time when the Huns invaded China and started war with the Chinese. In response, The Emperor of China rounds up a male from every family in China in order to help engage the enemy. At this same time, Fa Mulan struggles with the expectations of being a woman, and fails to meet the standards at a matchmaking ceremony. Mulan, who cares very much for her elderly father, decides to take her father’s place in the army by posing as a man. Her Ancestors are worried about her safety , and order a small dragon, Mushu, to wake up the Great Stone Dragon to help protect Mulan. Mushu fails in this task, but decides to join Mulan and help her succeed in order to boost his own standing with the Ancestors. In the camp, Mulan, under the name of Ping, trains under the watchful eye of Captain Li Shang, until the group goes out to fight the Huns.

STRENGTHS

Mulan herself  is a fantastic protagonist and really pulls the movie together in every single aspect. Mulan truly ranks among the best female protagonists in the history of Disney. The build her character has is so good, and every scene feels necessary for her character. The matchmaker sequence is a great opening for the character, and really gets the audience tuned into the struggles she has finding her identity. Her decisions are logical, her love is pure, and she truly grows into her own. Mulan is a very strong character and is written very well, alongside having a great acting performance behind her.

One of the reasons Mulan is allowed to be this strong character is because the story of Mulan is a very strong one. The progression of the story is great and allows the characters to interact and grow. It also makes a ton of sense, which is always important. It’s engaging, greatly paced, and includes some great action sequences. I also love that the messages the film presents works on multiple levels. It’s as much a story about the equality of women to men as it is a story about avoiding society’s stereotypes and finding your own identity. The message never feels in your face, yet is very clear and moving by the end of the piece.

Mulan, like many of the Disney films above and even below it, contains a bunch of memorable characters to act alongside the character of Mulan. Shang is a great counterpart to Mulan, being the man who every man wants to be. His acting towards Mulan is always believable, both when he believes she is a man and when he finds out the truth, and is a romance you root for. The three other soldiers we are introduced to, Yao, Ling, and Cheng-Po, are also good companions to Mulan and provide some good comedy along the way. Shan Yu and the Huns are formidable opponents, and they certainly make their presence felt throughout the film. Other characters scattered throughout the film, such as Mulan’s father and grandmother, even in their small roles, add a lot to their segments.

And then there is Mushu. Oh, what to say about Mushu. First, I will say that Eddie Murphy makes the character, and gives a great performance as the small dragon. And though I do have some mixed feelings on the character (And by mixed feelings I mean 85% positive), I do admit that he has some very funny moments, interacts well with Mulan, and actually pulls off his emotional moments extremely well.

Overall, the film’s humor is much more hit than miss, and even with my mostly positive mixed feelings, I do laugh out loud at many of the film’s gags. I do want to mention here that I think the film handles its darker moments well. This is a film that deals with war, and there are moments presented where the consequences of war are shown. These moments are few and far between, emphasising their important, and are presented very well.

WEAKNESSES

I do have to say that I feel, at times, the humor goes a bit too much over the top. While I enjoy the lighthearted tone of the film, I always feel that jokes go about two or three lines too far in certain scenes, and it sort of takes you out of the film’s more serious messages and moments. I think the film really needed to slow down on the jokes overall. And even though many of the jokes are funny, the consistent overkill over the jokes does wear you down. It never takes a moment to slow down to be serious for a second, and while it’s not as big of an issue as it was in Emperor’s New Groove, it still weakens the film a bit.

The worst offender of this is Mushu. As much as I like Eddie Murphy’s performance, his style of comedy and acting just leads to some dull humor here and there. Again, 85% of the character’s on-screen time is great and funny, but that 15% of overkill really hurts. Then, there are just some jokes that simply fall flat and really kill the mood of some sequences (The scene in which Mulan discovers some of the Huns are still alive comes first to my mind.) I think if he would have been toned down just a little bit, the rest of the film and the emotions of the film would have been greatly elevated.

I really think that this soundtrack is of the weakest, if not the weakest, of the string of 1990s hit musicals. Sure, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” has become a cult favorite, but it is simply good, not great, and fails to stand out among other classic Disney songs. “Reflection” is decent, but much to short in the context of the film. The other two songs, “Honor to us All” and “A Girl Worth Fighting For,” are very forgettable, and feel forced into the movie and plot rather than feeling like a necessary addition to the story. These moments don’t do anything really for the film.

This is a final, minor point, but while I enjoy the final battle, I wish it was a bit more dramatic. Other Disney films with comedy throughout were able to conjour dramatic final battles, and Mulan’s good vs evil is so good that I wanted it to have more drama attached to it. The initial battle with the Huns was able to achieve this. I wanted the final battle to have that same feeling

Actually, A final, final minor point. I do like the idea of having a seedy character within the camp who may have doubts about Mulan, but his character is never really fleshed out enough to work. He needed more motivation, and more opportunities to raise his value. As is, he really just feels like a superfluous character that really doesn’t need to be there.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

Yeah, yeah, I just ripped the soundtrack, but a Soundtrack still has best song, and “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” fits that role. The visuals help to create a great montage, even if I feel the song leaves a little to be desired.

The the discovery of the Hun’s destruction and the first Hun battle takes the cake for me in the Best Scene department. It’s dramatic while still keeping with the films tone, which is what the final battle needed to be. I know that this is a long Best Scene, but the two moments really work together.

CLOSING COMMENTS

I think it’s obvious to say that Mulan is the best 1990s film we’ve seen thus far, but it is also is one of the first Disney films we’ve looked at that really does a good job of balancing drama and humor. Sure, I do feel that the film can weigh towards the comedy side a bit too much, I still feel that it never hurts enough to make the film bad. In fact, the film is quite good, as a Top 25 film should be.

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One thought on “Ranking the Disney Canon – 23: Mulan

  1. As I have said before, comedy for me is a hit-and-miss because there’s only so much that you can enjoy though at other points comedy is difficult to leave a mark if the audience doesn’t laugh. I will admit prior to my introduction of ‘Mulan’, I never really knew this was based on an actual story about the woman until many years later when I started digging deep into it’s roots. But for what it is, the film was enjoyable during it’s time proving that while it remains a musical comedy it can still handle the way it displays the more darker elements to the story. And while I heavily dislike the stereotyping of how a woman should act in a seemingly ‘all male’ society, I love how the message presents on the importance in equality and respect towards the opposite sex. And though this film won’t change much, the horrors of war that they show proves that it is never truly an answer because the carnage and death tolls it leaves will always be a painful reminder of why war is like the comedy of this movie, a ‘hit-and-miss’.

    I love Mulan as a protagonist in this film, one that proves that female protagonists don’t need to be the stereotypical Disney Princess gimmick in which they must wait for true love to come for them rather taking their own actions in order to expand on their characters. She’s as enjoyable to watch as much as the majority of the film’s cast and while I’m not a fan of the sequel, I do feel it tries to understand the hardship of romance (Though it made me hate Mushu for the majority of the film till the end). Granted this movie was not so much meant to focus on romance, but Mulan and Shang as a couple… Oh yeah, there was something building there. All and all, I truly feel this was a memorable film from the 90s and I am certain it will be all but forgotten when it’s said and done.

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