In this Rewind Review, we travel back to 1998, to a time when hand-drawn animations were the main source of entertainment from Disney. This is one of their best filled with some highly catchy tunes, Disney’s Mulan.
Based on the legendary Chinese warrior of Hua Mulan, the story follows the young heroine of the title as she takes her father’s place in the Imperial Army. But with the army’s strict ‘men only’ rule, Mulan disguises herself as a man called Ping, with the help of her dragon Mushu, to ward off a Hun invasion.
Mulan is voiced beautifully by Ming-Na Wen (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), with her singing vocals provided by Lea Salonga. Mulan is a brilliantly well realised character. She’s clever and isn’t afraid to be herself. The vocal performance is strong and realistic.
Accompanying Mulan on her travels is Mushu, voiced to hilarious perfection by Eddie Murphy (Shrek). He’s a “travel sized” red dragon who takes on the task of watching over Mulan and protecting her. He is a brilliant character and one of those rare comedy characters that genuinely is funny and has a caring side that doesn’t come from nowhere.
The movie is also populated with a wide variety of great characters, most of whom are pretty memorable, including Shang (B.D Wong), the leader/teacher of the army, Chi Fu, and the comedy trio of Yao, Ling and Chien-Po, all of who bring something different to the film and make it even more watchable.
Miguel Ferrer lends his vocals to the sinister Hun, Shan-Yu as the movie’s antagonist. He’s a brilliant villain who is nearly always shrouded in shadow. He has a menacing presence whenever he’s on screen and provides a genuine threat to the main characters.
The story takes influence from the ‘Hero’s Journey’ and works it into something that fits the time and background of the film. Like most of the best movies, its character driven and focuses on the lead’s development.
Back in the 80’s and 90’s, Disney seemed to find a way of differentiating between each project with unique art styles. With Mulan coming out a year later, it borrows elements from Disney’s Hercules (1997), such as the curly smoke and a similar look for the animals, but the artwork looks slightly rounder, particularly on the characters, which looks great and really suits it.
The animation itself is great. It’s simple, fluid and blurs the line between real and cartoon, allowing the story to weave in and out of life-like moments and mad slapstick in a way that only animations can achieve. There’s even some really beautiful background artwork to fill out their world and make their interpretation of ancient China feel real.
With the majority of the story focusing on the army, there’s plenty of action to liven the movie up, and it is truly epic! It feels realistic, with the characters facing genuine danger, and a surprisingly high body count for a Disney movie, even though the majority is off-screen.
The main score was composed by Jerry Goldsmith (Alien), who has developed a truly stirring and powerful soundtrack that elevates everything occurring on screen.
And like the best movies from Disney, this features a ton of catchy songs that are among some of the best Disney has produced. The songs aren’t there just for the sake of it, they help tell the story and how the characters are feeling, and are a great way of showing a passage of time whenever sequences become too long, such as the iconic training scene, set to Donny Osmond’s “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.”
Overall, this is a fantastic animation from Disney, combining all of the elements they are most famous for and creating something new and exciting. With brilliantly realised characters, an engaging story and glorious soundtrack, this is a must-see for all the family.
Purple Revolver rating: 5/5. Brings honour to Disney.