Tony Bancroft, Barry Cook
Ming-Na, B.D. Wong, Soon-Tek Oh, Eddie Murphy, Harvey Fierstein, Gedde Watanabe, Miguel Ferrer, James Hong, Pat Morita
Anonymous (poem), Robert D. San Souci, Rita Hsiao, Chris Sanders, Philip LaZebnik, Raymond Singer, Eugenia Bostwick-Singer, Dean DeBlois, David Reynolds
The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.
An ancient Chinese legend is magically transformed into an unparalleled adventure bursting with action, emotion, and lots of laughs in Disney's heralded 36th animated classic, Mulan.
A spirited young girl named Mulan, who doesn't quite fit into her tradition-bound society, discovers that her aging father has been ordered to help defend China against the invading Huns! In a brave and selfless act, Mulan disguises herself as a man and takes her father's place in the Imperial Army, where she trains with a comical group of warriors, led by the handsome Captain Shang. Never far away are Mulan's hilarious guardian dragon, Mushu, and lucky cricket, Cri-Kee. But Mulan will need more than Mushu's razor-sharp wit to defeat the ruthless Hun leader, Shan-Yu. Only by staying true to her heart will Mulan blossom into a skilled soldier and bring victory to her nation and long-awaited honor to her family!
Triumphant on all fronts, Mulan's breathtaking animation, sensational music, and action-packed battles amid snow-covered mountains will amaze and inspire your family like no Disney Classic before!
$22.745 million on 2888 screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 88 min.
Release Date: 11/9/1999
• Two Music Videos
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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 19, 2004)
Following the success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1988, the Disney animation studios finally started to return to their former stature with the hit 1989 release, The Little Mermaid. With the exception of 1990's less than boffo Rescuers Down Under, things just kept getting better and better for the animation wing: 1991's Beauty and the Beast scored big at the box office and made history as the first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award as Best Picture.
1992's Aladdin wasn't as critically successful as Beast but audiences ate it up and it was the year's biggest moneymaker. This warming trend culminated in the phenomenal reception accorded 1994's The Lion King, Disney's biggest grosser ever to that point and also the year's most popular movie. (For the record, Forrest Gump made a bit more money than did King, but when one considers that many more of the latter's tickets were for matinees and also often discounted for the young 'uns, there's no question that King sold more tickets than did Gump. So there!)
After that, things started to go downhill. 1995's Pocahontas did fairly well but was a disappointment after the megabucks of King. Actually, a Disney release - Toy Story - captured the box office for that year, but it frequently is regarded as something of an anomaly since it's really a Pixar film financed by Disney and not a product of their own studios. 1996 (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and 1997 (Hercules) saw a consistent downward trend in the revenues generated by Disney's animated releases; Hercules was actually the first animated release from Disney since Rescuers Down Under to make less than $100 million.
As such, things didn't look too rosy for the next animated film from Disney, 1998's Mulan and the studio's behavior reflected this attitude through a much more subdued publicity campaign for the film. Oh, we saw the usual McDonald's tie-in and plenty of other merchandise, but the entire enterprise seemed less interested in bludgeoning the consumer over the head with the movie's existence. Comparatively speaking, Mulan snuck up on audiences.
Happily for Disney, this "less is more" approach worked and the revenues rebounded, largely through very positive word of mouth. While its approximately $120 million gross was nothing spectacular - Pocahontas did better and was seen as a disappointment - at least it marked an upward trend, one that continued with the $162 million of A Bug's Life and the $170 million of Tarzan. Success, setback, renewed success - it all sounds like a typical Disney storyline, doesn't it?
Mulan itself is interesting to examine in comparison with other Disney films, especially opposed to its immediate predecessor, Hercules. That movie is one that I didn't much like even though I thought I should. It seemed to have everything one would want from a Disney film but yet it all seemed somewhat cold and calculated; while all the components were there, ultimately, it came across as less than satisfying.
Mulan, on the other hand, looks weak when dissected and viewed in traditional Disney terms. Most of the characters were flat and undistinguished. Mulan herself was interesting in a spunky way but she didn't portray a whole lot of personality. As our main villain, Hun leader Shan-Yu strikes an impressive pose and seems very menacing, but he also lacks personality and is one of the least compelling Disney villains of the era; Hades in Hercules was much more entertaining and provocative.
Most of Mulan's comic sidekicks appeared generic and one-dimensional except for main foil Mushu. That character, voiced by Eddie Murphy, added life to the movie but did so in a tremendously anachronistic way that seemed likely to trivialize and detract from the plot. Add in some very undistinguished and unmemorable songs and you have a recipe for a very weak Disney film.
But that's not what happened. Despite all the chinks in the armor, Mulan succeeds, and does so tremendously well. I'm not going to get into any of that "best Disney movie since..." nonsense because I've liked all of their animated films from the Nineties; even Hercules grew on me. Still, it's a very compelling film and one that offers a nice spectrum of thrills, drama, emotion and laughs. In short, it's exactly the reason most of us go to see Disney movies.
Normally in my reviews I try to use my feeble little brain to analyze the film in question and to discuss various aspects of it, but I'm not going to do so here because - as I've already noted - Mulan will not hold up well to close inspection. That doesn't mean that it really is flawed; it simply signifies that the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. Mulan is fantastically entertaining and quite exciting to boot - let's just leave it at that.
Okay, my "liíl EbertĒ side insists I discuss one issue in the film: Eddie Murphy. His semi-jive talking dragon seemed quite popular with audiences but he received a bit of a critical drubbing because the character seemed so out of place. Why was this urban, African-American-influenced monster romping around medieval China? The popular criticism was that it didn't make much sense.
No, it didn't. Of course, neither did a story about a mermaid or a tale that involves a prince who was turned into a beast. One could argue that those were fairy tales whereas Mulan tries to be more reality-based, and that's a valid point. Really, the best comparison one can make is to Aladdin. It also came from something of a historical world vantage that featured moderate amounts of magic. However, no one seemed to mind the Genie in that film, a character whose personality made as much sense in the context of the world of Aladdin as does Mushu in Mulan.
Although I had my apprehensions about the character, Mushu works well within the film. Murphy offers a nice performance that doesn't quite compete with that of Robin Williams as the Genie - or even his own endearing Donkey from Shrek - but Murphy manages to make the character his own and keeps him interesting. Mushu could be obnoxious and painful to watch, but Murphy lends him an endearing quality that helps the character succeed.
Actually, Mulan integrates humor much better than was done in the previous few Disney efforts; in some of those, the lighter moments seemed randomly inserted just because the audience expected them. The worst offender in this regard was Hunchback. Frankly, I really liked that movie except for the fact that its creators backed down at key moments. Hunchback was a surprisingly intense effort - I really believe that if anyone other than Disney had produced it, it would have received a "PG" rating - but the producers often undercut the drama with inanely lighthearted scenes. For example, just as the film nears its climax, we stop to hear a comedic tune called "A Guy Like You". This completely deflated the tone. Mulan manages to make much smoother transitions and it comes across as much better assembled in that regard.
Ultimately I really like Mulan. It might not merit mention alongside Disneyís greatest achievements, but it stands as one of their more consistently engaging and likable efforts. It manages to combine a mix of different genre elements into one fun and entertaining package.
The DVD Grades: Picture B-/Audio B+/ Bonus D
Mulan appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. Overall, I found the image of Mulan to appear decent and frequently excellent, but a few issues knocked down my overall score.
Sharpness was generally solid and the image often looked pretty crisp. However, some shots - usually those that were wide enough to include at least two characters - seemed too soft. Moderate edge enhancement cropped up at times, which was part of the reason for the softness. Despite the lack of anamorphic enhancement, jagged edges and shimmering didnít present any concerns. Source flaws were a little distracting. I only saw a few specks, but some artifacting crept into a few scenes, especially the darker ones, which looked a bit noisy.
Colors appeared largely accurate and could be quite impressive. On a few occasions, I thought they were a little pale, but they usually looked vivid and bright. Blacks seemed dense and firm, and other than the artifacts, dark shots were adequately delineated. The image of Mulan failed to impress greatly, but it seemed mostly good.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Mulan offered a much more consistently successful affair. Although a little subdued, the soundfield mostly filled out the spectrum nicely. The front soundstage was quite active and displayed some pretty good localization. Elements popped up in the correct places and blended together concisely. Rear usage was a bit lackluster, though the track kicked to life well when necessary. The battle scenes demonstrated positive action in the surrounds and helped create an involving piece. The track probably could have made the rear speakers more forceful, but they complemented the material in a more than acceptable manner.
Best of all was the quality of the audio. Mulan boast ed strong dynamic range. There's some real bass thumping in there at times and it always sounded crystal clear. Obviously all of the dialogue was dubbed, but it worked into the mix effortlessly and naturally. Effects sounded real and convincing, and the music appeared very smooth and packed a nice punch. It's not a demo mix, but it underscored the action very well and sounded quite good.
Less positive is the weak array of supplements on this Mulan DVD. We get a pretty good theatrical trailer, one that's interesting because it includes some rough animation. We also see music videos for "Reflection" from Christina Aguilera and "True to Your Heart" from Backstreet Boys wannabes 98 Degrees and Stevie Wonder. Both clips are fairly generic movie-song videos that intercut shots of the performers miming their songs with scenes from the film; "Reflection" shows Aguilera wandering around some sort of Chinese temple, I believe, while "Heart" depicts 98D and Steveland flopping about some city's Chinatown (LA, I'd guess). Both are completely average and not terribly interesting unless you are a particular fan of any of the acts involved. I'm not, so I seriously doubt I'll ever watch either video again.
Mulan remains one of the best Disney flicks from the modern era. It didnít rake in mega-bucks of the studioís most financially successful efforts, it stands as a very well-realized effort that aptly demonstrates the genreís strengths with almost none of its weaknesses. The DVD presents decent picture and good sound but lacks any worthwhile supplements.
While I like Mulan a lot, I canít recommend this DVD. For one, itís been out of print for years, so youíre unlikely to find it anyway. In addition, Disney now makes a two-disc special edition of the film. It presents improved picture quality plus a mess of very nice extras. Unless you donít care about supplements, canít take advantage of anamorphic enhancement, and can find this old DVD for a very low price, definitely pick up a copy of the SE instead.
To rate this film, visit the Special Edition review of MULAN