The Emperor of China: The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
Despite Mulan not being in any way an official Disney princess, she is included in the official Disney princess line-up. This has caused much debate on Mulan’s status as a Disney princess. But what everybody can agree on is that, Mulan the movie is a good movie.
The story is that the Huns led by the villainous Shan Yu are about to attack China. Thus the emperor orders a mobilization requiring that one man from each family be drafted into the Chinese army. When Mulan’s father Fa Zhou is to be drafted (as he is the only man in her family) she is concerned, as he is weak and had already braved through one war. Thus she steals her father’s armor, disguises herself as a man, and goes in his place. Despite being lacking in skill at first with the help of a small dragon named Mushu she manages to earn the respect of her fellow soldiers and her captain Li Shang.
The movie is basically an underdog story with Mulan trying to prove her military skills to her fellow soldiers and help take down the Huns in the process. The movie is quite ambitious in telling this story in a fun and compelling way while also going into some dark and serious territory particularly when it comes to showing the implications of war. Being a Disney film there is some goofy comedy in the whole thing but the movie knows how to balance both aspects out.
The animation knew how to make the movie look and feel like it takes place in China. The inspiration for the art largely came from Chinese art in past dynasties, which are widely reflected in the backgrounds. The color palette in the film is particularly vibrant which helps the film stand out. The character designs also stand out. They are a lot simpler and believable in their expressions. Others like the ancestors, Mushu, and the other men are given more cartoony designs, which reflects their nature as their character roles. The movement is the greatest part of the animations. This reaches its greatest in the action and training scenes look engaging and intense. The action itself is not only given a grand scale but also a great deal of creative possibilities.
Mulan herself is a kind-hearted character but shows a great deal of strength and courage through her actions not only through her fighting but also through her training and choices. When she joined the Chinese army it was not to prove herself as a woman but rather to save her father and find a better purpose, as she could not adhere to traditions. She is given a bit of a romance with Shang but it is mostly glossed over. Shang himself is a good character being tough on his men but does his all to make his father proud. Shan-Yu is sadly one of the more forgettable villains in Disney history. He is given a threatening design but no purpose to his motives whatsoever. The comic relief characters are enjoyable. Mushu is given a great performance by Eddie Murphy and his dialogue is hilarious. He is given a motivation but it feels overshadowed by his role as Mulan’s protector. Yao, Ling, and Chien Po are also funny characters each different in their own way and play vital roles throughout the plot.
Even though there are only four songs in the movie they are all memorable and contribute well towards the Chinese theme and overall message of the movie. Honor to Us All and Girl Worth Fighting for help with the Chinese theme and comedic moments. Reflection helps emphasize Mulan’s identity struggle. Finally there’s I’ll Make a Man Out of You. This song is extremely motivational and gives the movie a great deal of strength.
Mulan knows how to deliver an engaging story, some unique animation, and enjoyable characters, and uplifting songs. It has a weak villain but excels in its heroism. Mulan may not be a Disney Princess but her movie ranks right up there with (and in some ways even above) the best of them.