Monday, September 14, 2020


With 1998's Mulan, Disney animated the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan about a young woman who dresses as a man to take her father's place in the conscripted army. Making several changes to the source material, but staying true to the basic idea of the legend, we're introduced to Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) who struggles with fitting in as the perfect daughter but finds a way to serve her family by sneaking off, stealing her aging father's (Soon-Tek Oh) armor and sword, and assuming the role of a dutiful son to take his place in the upcoming war to fight off the invading Huns.

The film is primarily about Mulan's struggle to find herself while attempting to pass herself off as "Ping," eventually gaining the respect of the other soldiers and stalling the Hun invasion before her secret is exposed bringing dishonor on herself and her family. Refusing to admit defeat, Mulan returns to the city as herself to save the Emperor (Pat Morita) all with the help of a lucky cricket and an ancestral family guardian (Eddie Murphy) hoping to earn redemption. Murphy's pint-sized dragon Mushu provides the comic relief in the standard Disney sidekick role.

While the film met with mixed reviews in China, both for the changes to the legend and its more Western style, it was generally praised elsewhere as it marks Disney's attempt at a new type of female protagonist as a legitimate heroine overcoming enforced gender roles and proving her worth despite breaking cultural taboos. Some have even suggested the roots of the "girl power" movement can be traced back to the film. Others have also praised Disney for, intentionally or not, exploring LGBTQ themes in a mainstream animated film.

Mulan isn't perfect. The leader of the Huns, the growling Shan Yu (Miguel Ferrer), certainly ranks as one of the most forgettable villains of the Disney pantheon and the film's songs are a bit hit-and-miss ranging from the cornball "I'll Make a Man Out of You" and "A Girl Worth Fighting For" to the introspective "Reflection." However, neither of those limitations take away from the fact that Disney crafted something quite memorable by putting the heart of Mulan at the forefront of what is an animated war movie that rebels against expected gender roles. The film has been released multiple times on Blu-ray and DVD, including collections which include it's all-but-forgotten sequel, and is currently available for streaming on Disney Plus.

1 comment:

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

Love the animated film and I really enjoyed the 2020 remake. Best of the Live action cash grabs by the Mouse by a long mile.