tek's rating: ¾

Mulan (G)
Disney Movies; Disney Wiki; IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Wikipedia
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Caution: potential spoilers.

This came out in 1998. I first saw it on VHS, I would guess sometime in the early 2000s. I'm writing my review in 2016, after watching it on DVD. The movie is based on a Chinese legend about a warrior woman named Hua Mulan, but I don't actually know anything about that legend. And I'm sure the Disney version is quite different, anyway.

The movie begins with the Huns, led by Shan Yu (Miguel Ferrer), invading China. The Emperor (Pat Morita) orders a conscription, which apparently demands one man from each family be sent to join the army and fight the Huns. Meanwhile, a young woman named Fa Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) is meeting with a matchmaker, in order to find a husband, to bring honor to her family. She's not particularly good at, you know, playing a traditional female role in society, or whatever, though she does try. And her grandmother (June Foray) provides a "lucky cricket" (Wikipedia says its name is Cri-Kee, though I'm sure I never heard a name mentioned in the movie). I'd say Cri-Kee turns out to be the main reason Mulan's meeting with the matchmaker becomes a spectacular disaster. (So it would seem the cricket is actually unlucky, though considering everything that happens after this might not have happened if the meeting had gone well, I'd say the cricket was extraordinarily lucky.) Anyway, it seems Mulan won't be matched up with any man.

Later, when the Emperor's advisor, Chi-Fu (James Hong), shows up at Mulan's town to recruit soldiers, her father, Fa Zhou, is conscripted. He had previously fought in some other war, and he has a bad leg, so Mulan doesn't want him to go. She decides to steal his conscription paper and armor, and go in his place. (And she takes her horse, Khan, with her.) But since women aren't allowed to be soldiers, she pretends to be a man named Ping. After her grandmother finds she's gone, Zhou tries to stop her, but it's too late. And he realizes he can't reveal the truth to anyone, because the law would demand that Mulan be executed. Meanwhile, her grandmother prays to their ancestors to watch over Mulan. The spirit of one ancestor (George Takei) awakens a small dragon named Mushu (Eddie Murphy), who then awakens the rest of the ancestors. They instruct him to awaken a stone dragon to act as guardian to Mulan. However, Mushu accidentally destroys the statue before it can be awakened, and decides to become her protector, himself. He wants to help Mulan become a war hero, in order to redeem himself with the ancestors. And he's accompanied by Cri-Kee.

The newly promoted captain in charge of training new recruits is Li Shang (B.D. Wong), and Chi-Fu is staying in the camp to oversee the training and make a report to the general (Shang's father). There are a few other recruits who have significant roles in the movie, though mostly as comic relief. (One of them, Yao, was voiced by Harvey Fierstein, though the other two actors were unfamiliar to me.) At first, all the recruits are terribly unskilled. And they really don't like "Ping"; Yao especially dislikes him. But over the course a few weeks, Shang's training makes them all pretty great, and they come to like Ping. (Throughout all this time, Mushu does whatever he can to help Mulan, though he's basically just comic relief, and sometimes seems to make things worse. Also, it's just ridiculous that no one ever sees him, because he's not great about hiding. Well, one time he was seen and mistaken for a snake...) Anyway, even though all the recruits make remarkable improvement, Chi-Fu, for some reason, plans on making a negative report on their progress. So Mushu and Cri-Kee forge a letter from the general, saying that the recruits' help is urgently needed at the front. So Li Shang leads them there, and they find the army, including his father, had already been defeated. Then Shang leads his recruits to try to stop the Huns before they can reach the Imperial city.

I don't want to give away any more specifics, but I will say that Mulan distinguishes herself in battle a couple of times, in between which her secret is discovered. And... there's a happy ending, of course, after some troubling developments. And, you know, it's got a good feminist message, and whatnot. Decent humor, great action, decent songs, nice animation. So I quite enjoyed it. And I guess that's all I can think to say.

Oh, there's a direct-to-video sequel, which I haven't seen. I might like to check it out sometime, but it's not particularly important to me. There's also going to be a live-action adaptation, which I quite look forward to.

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